Residents of the Battle River watershed area didn’t have many positive things to say about the river at a water quality meeting hosted by the Battle River Watershed Alliance.
“The water looks murky. Undesirable smells can accumulate at times during the year,” said Sarah Olson, economic development officer for Ponoka.
Olson feels the water quality of the river has become so bad people no longer want to interact with it, canoeing for example. “It’s a joke. People say if you’re floating down the river you’re probably dead.”
Ponoka County Coun. George Verheire feels the quality of the water is being degraded by some confined feeding operations (CFO) and other farming operations in the watershed area, and that regulatory agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) aren’t doing enough to help.
Verheire said farmers in the Battle River watershed clear cut the land and farm right to the river’s banks. This pollutes the river and damages its banks.
Complaints and infractions regarding CFOs and other operations are sent to the NRBC but Verheire said a complaint might as well be given to a wall for all the good it does. “NRCB needs more control of CFOs.”
The Battle River Watershed Alliance (BRWA) was established in 2006 and has been working with the population of the area to help improve the river’s water quality and the quality of the watershed.
Between 2007 and 2010 the nutrient levels of the river sections near Highway 53 have decreased. Pesticide levels have also decreased, and bacteria guidelines were being met 100 per cent in 2010.
In a 2004-2005 study the total phosphorous and nitrogen levels near Ponoka exceeded Canadian Water Quality Guidelines more than 50 per cent of the time. Dissolved oxygen and fecal coliforms under the irrigation guideline exceed guidelines up to 50 per cent of the time. Total nitrate, ammonia, pH, and fecal coliforms under recreational guidelines never exceed guidelines.
Sarah Skinner, watershed-planning co-ordinator, says the BRWA wants to work with residents, stakeholders and all levels of government, from town and county councils up to federal, to develop strategies and practices that will lead to the sustainability of the watershed.
Sustainability includes the biodiversity, water quantity, land management and water quality.
According to Skinner, the Battle River watershed covers 30,000 square kilometres of land and 80 per cent of that is in Alberta.
Skinner said 50 per cent of pollutants in the watershed water is non-point source pollution. Meaning it isn’t only CFOs and municipalities polluting, but pollution is also coming from sources the BRWA can’t pinpoint.
Poor water quality affects aquatic ecosystems, the economy, and health and social aspects of life in the watershed.
According to the BRWA, management practices that can help sustain the watershed include limiting manure and fertilizer in sensitive areas, watering livestock off-stream and wintering them away from bodies of water.
Urban municipalities can also make an impact on the watershed. “A typical urban resident might apply one to two bags of fertilizer to their 3,000-square-foot lawn. By doing so they are applying between three and seven times the fertilizer required,” said Skinner.
Rain gardens, rain barrels, and roof gardens are also ways to help the watershed by slowing down the movement of water in gardens, and allowing it to accumulate nutrients.
“Our actions on the land have impacts on water quality in our lakes, rivers and streams,” said Skinner, as part of her water quality slideshow presentation.
As well as educating people on the watershed the BRWA works with youths too. “We do the education thing in classrooms and summer camps,” said Skinner.
The BRWA has also worked with a stewardship project to restore a riparian area along the river near Camrose.