RDRWA Blog : Getting to the Source

In celebration of World Water Day on March 22nd, the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance premiered a stunning new documentary film called Source Waters: The Rivers That Shape Us.    The film premiere was followed by the RDRWA’s Spring Forum, which featured a multi-perspective panel conversation that touched on key themes in the film, including the inherent role of water in shaping life in central Alberta, the progress we’ve made to date, and ideas on how to tackle some of the complex water challenges facing us in the years ahead. The event was entirely virtual, with more than 170 registrants taking part in the premiere and the panel discussion. 

Source Waters is a testament to the Red Deer River watershed and the people that call the watershed home. Following the course of the Red Deer River, the film’s story moves downstream from the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains through to the prairies, highlighting stories from scientists, urban and rural communities, and rural landowners whose families have farmed the land for generations.

The central message of the film is that water connects us all and is an essential part of everything we do, whether it’s agriculture, industrial activity, recreation, or our daily rural and urban lives. The river’s natural functions, its biodiversity, and the interaction between surface and groundwater provide us with the foundation for our way of life and highlights the strong need to value and conserve our water resources.

Following the premiere, the panel conversation convened with panelists Dr. John Pomeroy, Mayor Terry Leslie (Town of Sundre), Margo Jarvis Redelback (AIDA), and Eric Gonzalez. Overall, the panel members explored a broad range of topics including land use, flood preparedness, policy development, education and awareness, the effects of changing climate, and the role of new technology to drive more efficient use of water. Here are a few highlights:

We’ve come a long way

The ways in which we understand river systems and water has grown and evolved significantly in recent years. There have been advances in the development of our understanding of watershed processes, how climate is affecting those processes, and how we will need to steward and manage our water resources into the future. 

Our new understanding is expanding the vocabulary we use today that was not part of the lexicon a decade ago. Mayor Leslie pointed to terms like flood mapping and mitigation, and multi-barrier approaches that are an everyday part of municipal planning today, but that were absent from the same planning in the past.

Our scientific understanding of watershed processes and effects of changing climate has evolved significantly as well. Dr. Pomeroy described how our understanding of industrial activities such as forest operations has grown more precise, which in turn has allowed the industry to more effectively mitigate their effects on runoff and the associated potential downstream water quality and quantity issues. Our abilities to forecast the potential effects of changing climate on future water supplies is such that we can focus more of our attention on how to best manage change in the timing and magnitude of flows. 

The ability to make better use of water through technological advancement and improved efficiency was highlighted by Margo Jarvis Redelback of the Alberta Irrigation Districts Association. The irrigation industry has made huge changes in their management of water over the past 100 years with shifts in water conveyance from open canals to buried water pipelines, new on-farm technology that delivers precision irrigation, and new crop varieties that require less water. 

Tackling the uncertainty 

The panel members also spent some time discussing what was needed to address the challenges facing water management in the Red Deer River basin and beyond. 

Source Water’s director, Eric Gonzalez, pointed to the need to see “beyond the taps” and for more people and politicians to understand the linkages of water to our everyday lives. And while the Source Water’s film takes us in that direction, more effort will be required to ensure water remains front of mind. Mayor Leslie suggested that the responsibility to understand water and water issues should be “ingrained into the DNA of municipal leaders”, so that the importance of water can be effectively reflected in all municipal decisions. 

Both Dr. Pomeroy and Margo Jarvis Redelback stated that our understanding of the effects of changing climate needs to continue to grow, because this more detailed knowledge will allow much better resiliency, farm-level precision management, and new opportunities for small- and large-scale storage to be realized. 

All of the panelists alluded to the need for our approach to water to be nimble enough to address changing conditions. Large projects developed in the past have taken a long time to build, so there is an opportunity to consider projects and a variety of scales to ensure pressing immediate needs can be met.

Collaboration is our strength

The panel concluded with a discussion of central Alberta’s long history of weathering challenges. The ability to sit down together to address the issues we face collaboratively, has helped Albertans manage through significant water issues in the past and will be a key ingredient to our success going forward. Eric Gonzalez described the many engaged and aware citizens he met through development of the film and how that level of enthusiasm would support whatever we do to effectively manage water into the future. 

Margo suggested that the various Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs), such as the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance, are great places to get involved because they bring multiple perspectives together in a collaborative manner. Mayor Leslie emphasized that this kind of involvement can translate into how municipal and provincial leaders put priority on water concerns and issues. 

The Red Deer River Watershed Alliance would like to thank our fantastic moderator, Scott Millar who deftly fielded questions and kept us on track during the Spring Forum and panel discussion. The RDRWA would also like to thank each of our panelists for taking the time to participate in our discussion and for their thoughtful answers to very complex water questions. Lastly, thank you to everyone who attended our virtual premiere and World Water Day event. 

You can view Source Waters : The Rivers That Shape Us on You Tube – click here to watch the film.

The Red Deer River Watershed Alliance is grateful to have this project supported through funding from the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, Dow Canada, the Red Deer and District Community Foundation and Rocky View County. 

Authors: Scott Millar and Rosemarie Ferjuc