AB Environment and Parks Statements of Concern provision

Alberta Environment and Parks had made provision for Statements of Concern to be submitted under the Water Act regarding the Mountain Ash LP gravel mine proposed very near to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and its critical thermal spring. The deadline for submissions was the last day of January. Apparently now AEP will make decisions on which SoC’s they will accept and then they are all sent to the mine proponent for their scrutiny. Beyond this, we are not yet aware of the procedure entailed but will inform people once we know. Statements of Concern over environmental matters like gravel mines are uncommon, so the procedure is not something common to the public.

To understand what’s involved, BCPS has made its own submission available (here), and we have included a sampling of other submissions that we think are informative of the range of issues explored. These can be found in the “Threats” section of our web site.

Volunteers at Bighill Creek Preservation Society look out for Cochrane’s unique ecosystem, Patrick Gibson, May 03, 2022

While the Cochrane Lakes and the Big Hill Springs are not ‘topographically linked’ they are thought to be ‘hydrologically linked’. A member of the Bighill Creek Preservation Society said two U of C studies have confirmed their theory that water from the lakes drains through the overburden and gravel filter onto bedrock before running in various directions, including toward the spring.

The area residents working on the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) have already had a busy 2022, even before summertime initiatives begin.

The volunteer organization’s stated mission is to protect the health of the Bighill Creek watershed, an area covering several miles north and east of Cochrane that feeds water into the creek winding through Cochrane Ranche and the Glenbow before meeting the Bow River.

Much of the group’s work over the last couple of years has involved raising public awareness and liaising with government on current or proposed gravel operations in the area. In a presentation to town council last month, they outlined certain projects they say could potentially leach an unacceptable amount of contaminants into groundwater feeding the springs, creek and local ecosystem.

They’re particularly focused on the ‘Summit’ operation, planned by Mountain Ash LP on a site roughly a kilometre away from Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. The project received the necessary approvals from Rocky View County last year, and is now undergoing environmental review by the province.

“It sits too close to the main spring of the park too close to the park itself,” said society president Gerry Bietz.

“We are hopeful that Alberta Environment and Parks will look at the science, that is their responsibility, and make a considered decision and we’re hopeful that the application will be denied.”

In the coming weeks, BCPS is hoping Alberta Environment and Parks will approve the society as an ‘affected party’, meaning the development applicant would have to respond to concerns outlined in the society’s formal ‘statement of concern.’

“If this application is approved, those properties even closer to the main spring might be enhanced as far as potential approval is concerned,” he added.

“It could set a precedent that would be even more hazardous for the park and the groundwater.”

“There are lots of other (gravel or aggregate) reserves that are available that are not in environmentally-sensitive areas.”

As they wait to hear from the province, the group has partnered with a University of Calgary research student who will collect samples from springs in the area over the summer.

“Big Hill Springs Provincial Park contributes fifty per cent of the flow into Bighill Creek, but there are numerous other springs that erupt along the edges of the coulee that supply water into the creek and each of those needs to be identified as a location and then they need to be tested for volume and for quality,” Bietz explained.

“All the information has to go into a database, and these studies create a baseline of information. Three or four years down the pike, we can go back and look at it again and say ‘Is it better or is it worse?’”

Back in town, the BCPS has lots of ‘hands-on’ work planned for the summer as well.

They’ll continue their regular program of water and sediment sampling, tending to the trails running through the watershed on Mount St. Francis land, and conduct analyses of the insect and fish populations as well.

The society president said the board and membership included several individuals with career expertise in environmental science. They also work with student and contracted researchers, and other environmental stewardship organizations.

“Some have science degrees, and some are volunteers who come out and help us with, for example, trail maintenance,” he said of the membership.

“I am much indebted to those people for their scientific backgrounds and knowledge in regard to all these aspects of the ecology.”

Membership to the BCPS is free. For more information, to donate or to subscribe to their mailing list with updates on their activities, email info@bighillcreek.ca.

“If it the (watershed) isn’t recognized as valuable and protected with some overarching protection, then little by little development will take place whether it’s industrial, gravel pits, residential or oil and gas, little by little they encroach on it and they disturb the ecology,” said Bietz.

“Wildlife has a harder and harder time dodging the human-made obstacles, and it becomes death by a thousand cuts if there isn’t a plan and that plan isn’t activated and quite candidly, we’re getting older. We’ve only got so much time left to see what we can do to get a plan in place.”

BCPS/Mountain Ash Limited Partnership (MAPL) Gravel Application Background and update

Background

The MAPL lands (320 acres) were approved for gravel extraction by Rocky View County. The Mine would remove up to 25 meters of gravel, leaving only one meter to protect the groundwater. Our science says that this mines and the others would harm the aquifer which sustains Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. It will catalyse chemical leaching, releasing some of the same toxic compounds caused by open pit coal mines. It will increase the variability of recharge to the aquifer and risk an increase in turbidity in the spring water.

MAPL has now submitted its application the Alberta Environment and Parks for removal of the sloughs on the property. MAPL’s hydrogeological studies admitted their project would alter recharge of the groundwater which would require a further application for such impact. However MAPL is on record that they not make this application.  BCPS and others have implored AEP to investigate the potential harm to the aquifer and the Park by forcing MAPL to apply.

Update

AEP provided an opportunity for concerned citizens to submit “Statements of Concern” from “Directly Affected Parties” in response to the MAPL application. The window for submissions closed on XXXX. AEP received about 270 Statements of Concern. AEP has since been processing the submissions to determine which, by their definition are from those “directly affected”. This process may take a couple of more weeks.

(Normally this would only include immediate neighbours.) BCPS assumes we will be included as an AP due to our activities preserving the watershed, and an initiation to participate.

The approved Statements of Concern authored by Directly Affected Parties will be provided to MAPL.  Then…. “The Applicant has the ability/responsibility to consider the concerns and provide a response to the Directly Affected individuals. AEP receives and reviews the Applicant’s response and determines if it is adequate or not, but please note that AEP is not directly involved with the communication between the Applicant and the Directly Affected Individuals, but does receive copies of the Applicant’s responses.” There is no further opportunity for input from opposing parties.

The AEP will review the Applicants response to Statements of Concern. AEP experts provide their own analysis which will further informal a decision to approve or deny. Either the Applicant or an Affected Party may appeal the decision to the Environmental Appeal Board, with the final result determined by the Minister -currently Jason Nixon.

BCPS in its Statement of Concern requested that the application be denied. In brief; the science says the MAPL mine would harm the aquifer, and place the Park and it nationally recognized Tufa formation and Bighill Creek at risk. It will provide no net economic benefit given widely available gravel resources in dramatically less ecologically sensitive areas. Development of the other lands totalling almost two square miles held by gravel interest will magnify the negative impacts.

While we await a decision from AEP, BCPS will continue our work in creating a State of the Watershed plan. And we’ll keep you updated.

 

 

 

A Prairie Oasis A Plan for Bighill Creek

AWA Article – A Prairie Oasis A Plan for Bighill Creek – APRIL 13, 2022
Wild Lands Advocate article by: Vivian Pharis, Vice President of Bighill Creek Preservation Society

When our little band of mostly retirees undertook a watershed plan for Bighill Creek in 2015, eager to be its proponents and advocates, we did not anticipate becoming its defenders. Our group of seven was thinking in positive terms, like “needed”, “doable” and “challenging.” Something worthwhile that we could sink our teeth into and enjoy doing. Far from our minds were the words “adversarial”, “combative” and “controversial.” We had retired from all of that and who wouldn’t support a watershed plan? Especially so, when such plans had been identified as needed for all three creeks feeding the Bow River at Cochrane. By 2015, Jumping Pound Creek already had a citizen-developed plan and one was underway for Horse Creek. Only Bighill Creek lacked a group of proponents. But we had no idea how gravel and its politics would come to dominate our efforts…

Visit the AWA article page to view the full 5 page article (PDF).

Field Monitoring Program, Bighill Creek Watershed, January, 2022

Report prepared by: Wendell Koning, MSc., P.Biol. Limnologist/ Water Quality Specialist, and Ken Stevenson, PhD. February 7, 2022. Prepared for: the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS). 14 pgs.

Water Quality Monitoring Activities, January 29-30, 2022

Introduction
On Jan 29 and 30, 2022, supporters and members of the Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) carried out a limited water quality sampling program. Four sites were sampled as per described in Table 1 (also see photos, 1-18). In short, we sampled, from upstream (u/s) to downstream (d/s): Big Hill Springs (BH Springs); two sites in Bighill Creek (Bh Creek); and one site in Millennium Creek. Millennium Creek discharges into Bighill Creek just upstream of the Bighill Creek confluence with the Bow River.
The springs in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park have been rated as one of the top 4 in all of Canada, when compared to 62 mineral springs across Canada, as reported in a study funded by Parks Canada (Housekneckt 1984).
As well, Bighill Creek is recognized by the Government of Alberta (1997, 2001) as an “Environmentally Significant Area of Alberta”.
Both the springs (nationally significant) and the creek (provincially significant) are therefore worthy of the attention, care and protection, that is the focus of the BCPS, a nonprofit society, and the work of the Society is therefore well-grounded, in science-based field monitoring initiatives. Field data, empirical data provides the background upon which wise sustainable environmental management decisions can be made by those in the province of Alberta who regulate such decisions.

Read more: Bighill Cr watershed, water quality report of Jan 29, 30 2022 (pdf)

Hydrology of Prairie Wetlands

Hayashi et al 2016 hydrology of prairie wetlands

This article presents an overview of the hydrology of prairie wetlands
intended for managers, policy makers, and researchers new
to this field (e.g., graduate students), and a quantitative con-
ceptual framework for understanding the hydrological func-
tions of prairie wetlands and their responses to changes in
climate and land use.

Dr. Hayashi is the head of the Hydrology Department at University of Calgary.

An Important Message

Let’s unite for our future.

Let’s Unite For Our Future

Let us unite in demanding an enlargement of the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. When the Park was created, the population of Calgary was 300 thousand. It is currently more than 1.5 million and Rocky View may have an additional 40 thousand. We require and desire open spaces. The Park isn’t large enough to accommodate the present load. Rocky View County needs a comprehensive open spaces plan to protect environmental assets like the Park by spreading the load.

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Reopens

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is open  after a two year make-over which cost $1.2 million.  Please enjoy the Park responsibly- especially at this time when the new plantings are fragile.

Here is the letter sent by Alberta Parks asking Rocky View County for  a 1.6 kilometer gravel extraction buffer zone to protect the Big hill Spring Provincial Park from gravel mines.  It was disregarded.

BCPS and Friends of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park are afraid the regulatory process will not protect the Park. We are asking those who love the Park to contact  government officials to bring political pressure to bear. We need to demand a 1.6 kilometer setback.

Please send your demand for a buffer and a copy of this letter to these people (and anyone else you’d like):

Jason Nixon, Minister of the Environment at AEP.Minister@gov.ab.ca,

Shane Schreiber, Assistant Deputy Minister at shane.schreiber@gov.ab.ca

Peter Guthrie, our MLA at Airdrie.Cochrane@assembly.ab.ca

Many Thanks

Gerry Bietz

BCPS Alberta Parks letter to RVC Feb 17 21

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Reopens Amidst Threat of Gravel Pit-September 10th, 2021

Here is a very informative published in the Rocky View Weekly. A must to read!

https://www.airdrietoday.com/rocky-view-news/big-hill-springs-provincial-park-reopens-amidst-threat-of-gravel-pit-4318222