The Mountain Ash Limited Partnership, or Summit Pit, has received preliminary approval to operate from Rocky View County. The company has now filed with Alberta Environment and Parks under Alberta’s Water Act, for a permit to remove 13 surface wetlands. They are not asking for permission to alter groundwater although their preliminary hydrological report to Rocky View Country, admits to the possibility of groundwater alteration, thus impacting Big Hill’s Spring, tufa formation in the park, and Bighill Creek. The gravel operator has applied to remove up to 25 meters of gravel, leaving only a 1 metre cap to protect groundwater. Altogether, there are 8 contiguous quarter sections of land owned by gravel operators, immediately north and west of BHSPP – see maps in the BCPS SoC.
Reference in Subject Line: – A Must to Include
DAPP0001717 & EMS No. 001-00481044
A written Statement of Concern (SoC) should refer to the location of the Summit Pit, (W1/2-31-026-03-W5). It is important to explain that you would be directly affected by a gravel pit that could impact a publicly-owned park and a creek that you, as an Alberta taxpayer, personally uses. The effects of a gravel operation within 800 metres of the park could directly impact your enjoyment of the park due to noise, dust, scenic alteration, and/or alterations to water including fish habitat.
Statement of Concern:
Mountain Ash Limited Partnership Water Act Application
File DAPP0001717 & EMS No. 001-00481044
Statement of Concern by Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS)
January 19, 2022
Bighill Creek Preservation Society
40020 Retreat Rd,
Rocky View County, AB, T4C 2W4
Phone 403 510 0875
Hon. Jason Nixon
Minister, Alberta Environment and Parks
323 Legislature Bldg. 10800 97th Ave. NW
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Regulatory Approvals Centre
Alberta Environment and Parks
Floor 5, S. Petroleum Plaza
9915 108 St.
Edmonton, AB, T5K 2G8
Mountain Ash Limited Partnership Water Act Application: DAPP0001717 & EMS No. 001-00481044
Requested Regulatory Relief:
That the current applications by Mountain Ash Limited Partnership (MALP) for a Registration under the Code of Practice for Pits, and for an approval under the Water Act for wetland disturbances be denied outright.
MALP has received approvals from Rocky View Council to develop a 30-40 year gravel operation (W1/2 31-36-3 W5M), located along Highway 567 north of Cochrane and within one half mile of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park (Park). The proposed surface mine is located on 323 acres of land overlying the aquifer which creates the nationally significant Big Hill Spring (Spring) and which sustains Bighill Creek (Creek).
MALP is currently seeking approval for this project from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), under AEP’s Code of Practice for Pits and a narrow section of the Alberta Water Act related to wetland surface water. MALP has not applied under the Water Act for approval of activities, which by their own admission will alter regional groundwater conditions both within and beyond the areas that are proposed to be mined.
Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS) believes that both applications should be denied outright. Neither addresses the primary environmental concern i.e. the degradation of the Spring, the Creek, Big Hill Springs Provincial Park (Park), the associated wetlands and nationally recognized tufa formations, should mining proceed. As a result, BCPS does not believe that it is in the public interest and would in fact be contrary to the rules of procedural fairness for AEP to allow the project to proceed on the basis of the actual applications and the associated inadequate information filed by MALP.
BCPS believes that approving the MALP application would present a material risk to the region’s groundwater resources and as a result, to the Spring, Creek, Park and related wetlands and riparian habitats. Further, BCPS believes that this gravel mine if approved, would set the precedent for approvals for all 1,300 acres of lands that are now held by gravel interests which abut the MALP project, the Spring and Park.
This and the other mines will imperil future conservation and recreation opportunities. BCPS does not believe that these impacts, if allowed to occur, can be mitigated or reversed. Nor would it be possible for MALP to provide any equivalent form of compensation for irreversible damage to one of Alberta’s most unique parks and the wetlands it contains.
The Park’s ecology was created and is sustained by the main Big Hill Spring that issues from an aquifer extending approximately 30 square miles to the north and west. (The aquifer is described in two detailed analyses by the University of Calgary. Both the Caron and the Poschmann studies are appended to this submission.) The aquifer’s water nourishes the Park and provides about half the flow into Bighill Creek. Between the Park and Cochrane, some five miles, the creek flows through a deeply incised valley of extensive and healthy wetlands and riparian zones. A broad range of native and some introduced fish occupy the Creek. BCPS is currently assessing the creek as to its suitability for reintroducing endangered Bull Trout and Westslope Cutthroat Trout.
BCPS Relationship to Area:
BCPS was registered as an Alberta Society in 2015. Our mandate is to develop a watershed plan for the entire Bighill Creek drainage and to ensure the long-term preservation of this valuable ecological and historical asset. Since formation, the society has worked diligently towards this goal. (A history of our activities is included here. All of our studies are available on our website <bighillcreek.ca>)
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, one of Alberta’s original parks, lies at the approximate centre of the watershed. The Society is actively engaged in community outreach and education, aided by our website and our Facebook page. Our supporters include residents in immediate proximity to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and who live along the Creek and across the region.
As listed below, BCPS has made presentations to Rocky View County and the town of Cochrane (through which Bighill Creek flows). These presentations have highlighted the ecological and historic attributes of the Spring, Park and Creek which provide current as well as future respite, educational and recreational opportunities for local and regional citizens.
We’ve distributed approximately five hundred copies of the pamphlet “Help Save Big Hill Springs Provincial Park” to Park visitors. On numerous occasions, BCPS has provided information published by local news organizations in our efforts to raise public awareness of the value of the Park and Creek.
- Damaging the Spring could bring national shame and adverse attention to Alberta due to the perceived unwillingness of the Alberta Government to protect ecologically sensitive areas of national importance. The Park at only 70 acres, contains rare and nationally recognized tufa formations. These result from the Spring’s unique combination of chemical, temperature and flow rate attributes that place this mineral spring among the top four in importance for Canada.
- Undoubtedly this year-around-flowing spring was also of major significance to indigenous people over thousands of years, as attested by nearby artifacts, including buffalo jumps. To our knowledge, indigenous peoples have not been consulted on the consequences of this mine on their traditional lands.
- Finally, the perceived failure of government to protect a provincial park is likely to once again create local outrage. The Park receives approximately 250,000 visitors annually and was recently renovated at a cost of $1.2 million due to heavy use. If there is no assessment of the cumulative risks of this and future mines on the Park, this investment will have been entirely wasted. The social consequences of destroying a provincial park visited each year by so many Albertans could be massive.
BCPS’ specific concerns include that:
- Groundwater and the Big Hill Spring, will be put in jeopardy by mining. The MALP mine would be located about 800 metres from the Spring. At this location almost the entire flow issues from the Paskapoo bedrock in an area smaller than the size of an average bungalow. This and other prospective mines would remove the vegetated organic soil, the subsoil, and up to 25 metres of gravel, leaving only one metre of gravel above the estimated and fluctuating level of groundwater and a very short lateral distance to filter recharging surface water that re-emerges at the Spring. Currently, the fluctuation of the water table is not sufficiently known leading to a risk of over-excavation to leave an even thinner layer of remaining gravel as a filter.
- Big Hill Spring water quality and quantity will be irreversibly impaired. As Dr. Jon Fennell points out (Section 2, Page 13) “It is a well known fact that when buried sediments are excavated and exposed to the atmosphere the local geochemical conditions change. The increased chance of mineral oxidation, combined with the unusual weathering and leaching reaction and ultimately the release of various constituents into the local groundwater.” Dr. Fennell expects with lesser filtration that the Park’s sensitive ecosystem may be negatively impacted over time. Creek turbidity will increase and more trace elements harmful to fish will be mobilized. (A letter in this regard by Trout unlimited is attached.) Both Dr. Fennell and Alberta Park’s recommend gravel excavations not be allowed within 1.6 kilometres of the Park boundary. For a further 800 metres from the Park boundary, a minimum of a 4 metre separation between excavations and groundwater would be required. (See Park’s letter attached.)
- AEP will consider the MALP application in isolation. BCPS fears that approval of the MALP application will create a precedent for greater gravel development around the Park. Adjacent to the Park in addition to the MALP lands , six quarter sections or about 1000 acres are controlled by gravel operators. Burnco, with three of those quarter sections immediately across the barbwire fence from the Park, is currently evaluating their lands for gravel mining. (A map illustrating the location of gravel lands is provided.) With up to five operating gravel mines on its boundary, Park use would be subject to untenable noise, dust and industrial impacts.
- MALP has only superficially considered these larger effects in its applications. These future developments are clearly foreseeable and AEP’s obligation under the Water Act and EPEA to conduct or require a cumulative assessment of the total extent of gravel extraction at this site has clearly not been met.
- AEP will determine approval of the application is in the public’s interest solely on the basis of the narrowly defined economic value of the gravel resource without examining the broader economic implications. BCPS notes that gravel is a relatively low value resource that is found abundantly within Rocky View County at numerous sites with little ecological and historic value compared to that of the Big Hill Springs site. The small economic rent associated with the MALP application compares poorly with the recreational, environmental and aesthetic values of the Park and its associated wetlands, ecology and history/archaeology.
- As MALP and other mines are developed, the basin will accumulate, focus and expedite precipitation directly to the Spring, exacerbating recharge variability. MALP’s discussion of local precipitation impacts avoided inclusion of the June 2013 flood event. Then, during a twenty-day period approximately 145 millimeters of rain fell at the Calgary International Airport. (Environment Canada Daily Data Report for June 2013 is attached.) The amount of rain at the MALP lands, approximately 35 kilometers to the west and 200 meters higher than the airport were likely higher.
- MALP only superficially addressed impacts of anticipated climatic changes forecast to increase the occurrence and severity of extreme precipitation events. These events will amplify cumulative effects of the MALP and other mines, intensifying negatives impacts on water quality and flow variability.
- The MALP application refers to “restoration” following extraction but fails to describe how that might be accomplished. Surface mining by definition results in massive disruption of soils and overburden. In this case it also results in removal of huge amounts of filtration (sand and gravel) material, making “restoration” of the original hydrology and hydrogeology virtually impossible.
BCPS requests that AEP deny the MALP application in totality for the following reasons:
- The mine would harm groundwater, a nationally significant mineral spring, the integrity of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park and Bighill Creek and its associated wetlands and ecology.
- While this harm may become discernible only through time, mitigation would be entirely ineffective and the damage would be irreparable.
- The potential economic and societal benefits of the MALP and other gravel mines is small relative to the loss of the valuable watershed and recreational values represented by the Big Hill Spring, Park and Creek.
History of BCPS Involvement:
- 2015 – a group of concerned local citizens formed and registered a society to develop a watershed plan for Bighill Creek; called Bighill Creek Preservation Society (BCPS)
- 2016 – BCPS acquired stewardship of the Rocky View County Environmental Reserves in the Bighill Creek
- In the preparation of a Watershed Plan for Bighill Creek, BCPS raised funds for and commissioned the following studies, some of which are on-going.
- Bighill Creek Water Analysis Baseline Studies, Dr. Ymene Fouli, 2018-2019
- Electrofishing Investigations in Bighill Creek, Trout Unlimited Canada, June 2018
- Riparian Health Assessment, Bighill Creek, Cows and Fish Alberta, 2018
- Aquatic Biomonitoring at Bighill Creek, Tobin Benedict, 2019
- Preliminary DNA Data, Bighill Creek AB, University of Guelph, December 2019
- Bighill Creek Water and Sediment Quality Baseline Study, Dr. Ymene Fouli, 2019-2020
- Benthic Macro-Invertebrate Biomonitoring Study, Bighill Creek, Tobin Benedict, Jan. 2020
- Temperature logger installations/monitoring at seven locations, Trout Unlimited report, 2020
- BCPS Commented to Rocky View Council Recreation and Parks Master Plan, V. Pharis, 2020
- Submission by BCPS to County of Rocky View Municipal Plan, V. Pharis, 2021
- Request (to DFO) for a Mining Project Review, V. Pharis, March 2021
- Submission to RVC Bylaw C8051-2020; Big Hill Springs – Not Gravel, but an Oasis on the Prairie, V. Pharis, Feb. 2021
- Submission to RVC Bylaw C8051-2020; BCPS Wildlife Corridor Submission, V. Pharis, Feb. 2021
- BCPS Presentation to Rocky View County Council 10/01/19
- BCPS Presentation to Town of Cochrane Council 03/25/19
- Letter V. Pharis to Terrina Perley; Re; Urgent Need to Assess Proposal for Mt. Ash Gravel Mine BEFORE Damage is Done, March 14, 2021
- BCPS Pamphlet “Help Save Big Hill Springs Provincial Park” to Park visitors fall 2021
- Fennell, Jon, 2021. Mountain Ash Limited Partnership Summit Gravel Pit, Review of hydrogeology, geochemistry, fish and aquatics, and climate change. 57 pages.
BCPS FBHSPP_JF submission_Jan 23_2021 Rev0.pdf
- Letter from Alberta Parks to Rocky View County re MAPL application 02/17/21
BCPS Alberta Parks letter to RVC Feb 17 21.pdf
- Letter from Jenna Leblanc, MEnvSc to Rocky View County re MAPL Development Permit
BCPS Letter in Opposition Jenna LeBlanc.pdf
- Bighill Preservation Society Map; Big Hill Springs Provincial Park/Big Hill Springs Aquifer/Gravel Operators
BCPS Maps Gravel Operations Big Hill Spring Aquifer Nov 2020.pdf
BCPS Maps Gravel Lands Ownership 01 19 22.pdf
- Caron, Marie-Eve, 2004. Hydrology of Big Hill Springs. 31 pages.
BCPS Caron Study Big Hill Springs Hydrology.pdf
- Poschmann, Soren, 2007. Establishing a recharge area for Big Hill Springs, Alberta, Canada, 40 pages.
BCPS Poschmann Study.pdf
- Government of Canada Daily Data report for June 2013
BCPS MAPL Major Rainfall Event 2013.pdf
- Letter Town of Cochrane to Jason Nixon March 24, 2021
BCPS Letter Town of Cochrane to Jason Nixon March 242021 re MAPL Gravel.pdf
- Letter Alberta Parks, Andrew Schoepf to Rocky view County re county Draft Municipal Development Plan, February 16, 2021
BCPS Letter Alberta Parks to RVC Draft Municipal Development Plan 02 16 21.pdf
- Rocky View County Open Spaces Master Plan 2011, Figure 5.3
BCPS RVC Open Space Master Plan Section 5.3.pdf
- Letter Trout Unlimited to Rocky View County
BCPS Letter Trout Unlimited to Rocky View County RE Summit Pit Feb 2021.pdf
- Armstrong D, Gow and Meikle W. 1998. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Management Plan. 25 pages.
- Blogorodow P. 1976. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Mini Master Plan. 55 pages.
- Hargroup Management Consultants, 2011. Rocky View County Parks and Open Space Master Plan. 111 pages.
- Houseknecht, S. 1984. Natural history study of mineral and thermal springs in Canada. Vol.1. Study commissioned by Parks Canada; Terra Environmental Consultants Ltd.
- Sutherland I. 1998. Ecological Land Classification of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. 35 pages.