Oldman Watershed Council
Our Story Why We Exist
We are a stakeholder based organization. We represent everyone who lives, works, and plays in the Oldman watershed - a diverse land and water system, covering 23,000km in southwestern Alberta and 2100 km in Montana. Socially, we are also diverse. Urban and rural, Indigenous and new Canadian, technology and tradition: together, we make common decisions about our drinking water for the benefit of the economy, our environment, the prosperity of generations to come.
Our citizens are hungry for unbiased, credible information, and we have established ourselves as an information hub for all stakeholders and communities. Under the provincial government's 'Water for Life Strategy', the OWC is one of 11 Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils in Alberta. We are mandated to provide advice, independent science, and big picture thinking to the Minister of Environment and Parks on the challenges that Alberta is currently facing. As such, we are an autonomous non-profit and we rely on the input, participation and financial support from engaged donors.
Our keystone publication is the 'Integrated Watershed Management Plan', published in 2011, which sets out our 8 goals. It is a collaborative effort between sectors, stakeholders, First Nations and the public to create the watershed community's plan. Since its publication, we have successfully tackled 2 of the 8 goals.
The first was to improve the understanding and strengthen the commitment of residents to the health of the Oldman watershed. We now reach well over 15,000 people on a weekly basis through social media alone, and it also attracting donors. For example, our Oldman emblem made its first appearance in May 2015 as a gift from the City of Lethbridge on a billboard at the entrance to the city. It also features on 3 interactive display puzzle boards. Each element of the emblem tells a story that helps educate participants about where their water comes from, where it goes, and what happens in between. Significantly, we have embarked on an ambitious Film Project, which involves one core film and many shorter videos highlighting many specific watershed topics. A critical part of the project has been involving people in the project; bringing new partners into the OWC family, giving a voice to residents and demonstrating how to inspire a community into collective action. In June 2015, the film project trailer was completed and continues to be at the heart of our outreach work.
The next goal we tackled was Goal 3 which is to manage and protect the integrity of headwaters and source waters. Based on the work of 2 behavior change specialists, 2 Outreach Assistants piloted our 'Engaging Recreationists Project' in the summer of 2015. Its success attracted funding from the provincial government and others, so that we were able to continue with 4 Outreach Assistants, and a full-time Education Manager the following year. We have engaged representatives from various off-roading organizations and retailers to form a 'Recreation Advisory Committee'. They ensure our programming is effective and help engage recreationists with our message about watershed health. This program also includes riparian restoration events, which attracts volunteers from all user groups.
The third goal is: Identify water quality outcomes and assess factors impacting them for adaptive watershed management. This goal, and the remaining 5 goals will be tackled in turn as we move forward in time. Significantly, aspects of each goal will remain firmly entrenched within our ongoing operations.
The Oldman Watershed Council exists to ensure clean, clear drinking water for generations to come. A healthy watershed is land-use practices that respect basic ecological thresholds - what happens on the land affects the water; and safe water supply, habitat for wildlife and plants.
The Rocky Mountains feed the headwaters of the Oldman mainstream and its tributaries (Crowsnest and Castle rivers, Willow and Pincher creeks), while the headwaters of the Belly, Waterton and St. Mary rivers rise in Montana. The watershed varies greatly, both in terms of the status of the land and water resources and impacts from human activities. In headwater sub-basins, water quantity is adequate, quality is fair to good, and riparian ecosystems are generally healthy. However, as the Oldman River flows east, water quality deteriorates, available water supplies diminish, and there are several issues of concern.
Whether citizens are urban or rural, enjoy motorized or non-motorized recreation; whether new Canadians or indigenous - it will take everyone to make significant change. In a natural resource-based economy, the economy IS the environment. Our impact extends beyond southern Alberta to positively influence other watershed professionals across Canada, government at all levels, and citizens of every community. We are all downstream!
Our Impact What We Do
The Oldman Watershed Council is the only organization where individuals, companies, organizations and communities can come together to devise practical solutions to the challenges our watershed faces everyday. We believe that the best, long-lasting solutions come from the people who live, work and play here. Our vision is a healthy, resilient watershed where people, wildlife and habitat thrive. We maintain and improve the watershed by:
- Improving and sharing knowledge
- Building and strengthening partnerships
- Promoting and facilitating community and institutional action and stewardship
- Developing and implementing integrated land and water plans
Our current projects (2016-17) include making recommendations to the Government of Alberta, communications and outreach via a series of videos which are free for the public to use, growing The Hub (our multi-disciplinary office space, which we use to host free educational events with other green businesses and not-for-profits), providing technical expertise and funding for on the ground projects, instilling a stewardship ethic in backcountry users, and numerous community partnerships. As the OWC moves through its 8 Goals (arrived at through a multi-stakeholder consultation process), our current projects will grow and change.
The OWC improves the watershed by sharing knowledge; building and strengthening stakeholder partnerships; developing integrated land and water plans; and facilitating community and institutional action with independent research and projects.
Eight Priority Goals for the Plan
In December 2011, the Oldman Watershed Council released Priorities for the Oldman Watershed: Promoting action to maintain and improve our watershed after consultation with the IWMP Core Team, watershed residents at 4 community information sessions and an on-line questionnaire. The priorities were endorsed by the Oldman Watershed Council Board of Directors and will be the guide for what issues the IWMP will address.
8 priority GOALS (Oldman Integrated Watershed Management Plan) are:
- GOAL 1: Improve the understanding and strengthen the commitment of residents to the health of the Oldman watershed.
- GOAL 2: Optimize the availability of water for the natural ecosystem while supporting the social and economic needs of the community.
- GOAL 3: Manage and protect the integrity of headwaters and source waters.
- GOAL 4: Identify and prioritize thresholds to manage threats and impacts on terrestrial and aquatic habitat.
- GOAL 5: Understand groundwater and how it interacts with surface water.
- GOAL 6: Identify water quality outcomes and assess factors impacting them for adaptive watershed management.
- GOAL 7: Prevent and control invasive species.
- GOAL 8: Understand the status and implications of emerging contaminants.
These are the goals that the IWMP will achieve over the next decade. Public and stakeholder engagement processes foster deeper understanding and commitment to the maintenance and improvement of watershed integrity, and determine concrete action strategies through the development of Action Plans. Action plans for each goal will include specific targets, actions, and recommendations to decision-makers to achieve desired outcomes.
The Council consists of members who live or work within the Oldman Basin. These members provide leadership and guidance in watershed planning and management, water quality monitoring, and stewardship promotion. The OWC is governed by a Board of Directors who are comprised of fifteen representatives from various organizations and four members at large. The OWC was formed in September 2004, when the Oldman River Basin Water Quality Initiative (Initiative) merged with the Oldman Basin Advisory Council (BAC). When the Province's Water for Life strategy was released, these two groups combined to provide a diverse partnership knowledgeable in all areas of watershed management, including sustainable water management and land use practices in the Oldman Basin.
Today, the Council provides leadership and guidance in watershed planning and management, monitoring water quality and promoting stewardship. The OWC has not only carried on the work of the Initiative and the BAC, but also acts as the Oldman Watershed Planning and Advisory Council as part of the Water for Life Strategy.
The OWC is a voice for the watershed.
We strive to ensure clean, clear, plentiful water for generations to come. That means making everyday changes in communities throughout Alberta today.
Our Programs How We Do It
1. Communications and Outreach Highlights
- The OWC is into its second year of expanding staff to include a full-time Communications Specialist and the investment is paying off. We have grown our audience and attracted many new volunteers and donors by increasing our communications and by using more effective strategies.
- Our social media channels are powerful tools for us. We now easily reach at least 15,000 people every week. The strength of our social media means that related organizations depend on us.
- We have developed an extremely robust, interactive website which provides opportunities for education, information and collaboration. It has been recognized by experts in the field as an outstanding example of website design, and is updated on a continuous basis. It includes a blog to which guest contributors regularily submit.
- The new Oldman emblem is a versitile and powerful new branding tool. It forms the core of all our communications, including interactive displays, merchandise and instantly recognizable everywhere it is seen.
- Volunteers and interns help us achieve results. Reaching out to the community is part of implementing systemmic change and recruitment, training and retention has steadily increased.
- Our digital archive is complete and used by organizations across Canada. Photos are added on an ongoing basis and comprises a visual, historical record of the OWC's outreach work and helps us tell empowering stories about the people working hard to maintain and improve the watershed. They are free and thus accessed by many organizations, including government, for other communications work.
- Events bring people together and we have a continuous line-up of speaking engagements, regular meet-up groups, Lunch and Learns, and on the ground involvement in numerous community efforts to repair, restore and educate the public about where our water comes from, where it goes and their role in keeping it healthy.
- One of the most exciting communications and outreach projects that the OWC has embarked on is an ambitious film project. Not only are we producing a documentary, but we are also, at the same time, producing an number of spin-off videos about specific topics (such as municipal watershed managment or agriculture, just as examples). These videos are scripted in collaboration with community partners, who donate to the project and help tell the story of water use in the Oldman basin and beyond.
2. Watershed Legacy Program
- Southern Alberta is characterized by ranching, farming and some of the most pristine recreational areas in the world. This program provides landowners and watershed stewardship groups support to design, fund and execute projects that have a positive and tangible impact on our watershed.
- Past projects have included: off-stream watering sites, streambank stabilization, invasive weed removal, nutrient management, riparian fencing, wetland restoration, education and technical support.
- 'Holding the Reins' is an annual event that welcomes nearly 200 participants from throughout the watershed and beyond to hear about the projects and to share these stories with the broader community. Students from Lethbridge College and their instructors are also active attendees.
- Applications are accepted once a year and selected on the basis of merit by a committee comprised of sector representatives with expertise in rural issues. Funding for this program comes from sponsors and donors who want to make a lasting contribution to the caretakers of the land who improve the integrity of our landscapes and foster awareness in present and future generations.
3. Engaging Recreationists Program
- By far the most diverse program, this project builds on the Headwaters Action Plan to include the development of an education and outreach program to address the cumulative effects threatening the headwaters. This involves supporting a stewardship ethic in motorized recreation users, and encouraging these users to adopt practices that reduce sediment in streams. 2015 was the pilot season for this project which began building relationships with off-highway vehicle users an backcountry campers on public land.
- The program is guided by the expertise of behaviour change specialists and utilizes effective, targeted programs and messaging, surveys and interviews.
- Riparian restoration events at selected sites in the watershed are a popular way of involving volunteers and experts from other organizations (such as: Cows and Fish, Trout Unlimited Canada, Spray Lake Saw Mills, Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad and others). Bridge decking and construction is a tangible way of both involving OHV users and making a clear statement protecting water quality for both habitat and uses downstream.
- The above groups, along with many others, have formed the Recreation Advisory Committee (RAC) which plays an important role in helping the OWC understand the perspectives of the stakeholder groups and thus affect more meaning, more immediate and more long-lasting change. They provide on the ground -- knowledge and expertise to ensure that education programs and government - led plans are effective at minimizing the impact of motorized recreation.
- In order to manage this program, including 4 seasonal Outreach Assistants and a cadre of volunteers, the OWC hired a full-time Education Program Manager in 2015.
- We continue to leverage the community, partner, and volunteer support and depend on the commitment from multiple stakeholder groups including represenatives from industry, governmnet, agriculture, recreation, NGOs and non-profit organizations. Significantly, this project depends on project funders who are committed to protecting our headwaters and ensuring water quality downstream.
4. The Hub
- The OWC moved our office to downtown Lethbridge in Janurary 2016. We chose a space that maximizes opportunities to engage watershed residents and build partnerships - the Hub for environment information and action.
- Since then, we have hosted many events, also in conjunction with Environment Lethbridge, who rents space from us. The large community space at the heart of our premises is offered for free for educational events and we are looking forward to developing stronger relationships with the community to truly make the space a hub for activity underscoring watershed health.
- Donors and sponsors are welcome to support either one off events or, for example, a series of Lunch and Learns.
5. Committees and Community Partnerships
- The OWC works with many committees, boards, and affiliated groups on common goals. Some of these include: Agriums Caring for our Watersheds Program which engages grade 7-12 students; Taber Irrigation District Integrated Watershed Management Project which constructs wetlands, riparian enhancements and canal improvements; City of Lethbridge Environment and Historic Resources Strategy Community Liason Group - dealing with the relationship between development and the environment; Porcupine Hills Coalition providing recommendations related to the linear footprint Management Plan and the Recreation Management Plans coming out of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan; Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce Natural Resources and Environment Committee - highlighting the connection between food and water and overall watershed health; Round Table on Crown of the Continent - collaboration on projects and multi-organizational events to promote conservations and stewardship activities in the crown; Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils of Alberta - we meet regularily to learn from each other share resources, explore sustainable funding sources and maintain a strong provincial voice with the Government of Alberta; South Saskatchewan Intra-Basin Water Coordination Committee - provides advise to the Government of Alberta on managing water and how best to share water between the prairie provinces; Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program - provides advise and recommendations to the GOA in alignment with the capital Agriculture Watershed Enhancement Program; Alberta Water Council - providing input to project teams on a wide range of topics; Kainai Ecological Protection Agency - offering support, advise and participation in events.
- These are just some of the committees and community partnerships the OWC is actively involved in. Funding for this important and ongoing work is critical in order to ensure that water remains always top of mind.
Our Requests What You Can Do
The OWC is a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organization that offers many opportunities for involvement. You can:
Help fund our work: Donate today...
We rely on contributions from people like you: people who care about the health of the Oldman watershed. Your generous support directly supports our water conservation and water quality protection programs. You will make a lasting difference to the Oldman watershed, to your environment, and to your community. Why donate to the Oldman Watershed Council?
- A Future We Want: Your support helps protect the Oldman watershed today, tomorrow and beyond.
- Personal OR Business Rewards: OWC is a registered charity and will issue a tax-deductible receipt for your donation.
- Note: For monthly donations, we will issue your receipt at the end of the calendar year.
Donate your time: Become a volunteer...
You can join us as a valued volunteer. We are grateful to our volunteers who continue to support us year after year, sharing our passion and vision for a healthy watershed. - Thank you! We provide options, but not limitations! The OWC is open to many forms of volunteering,
- Just get started: Get a taste for the OWC is all about! We welcome volunteers who can offer a single afternoon, day, or a weekend.
- Repeat agent: Volunteering regularly is an ideal way to help the OWC while building your skill set in watershed stewardship.
- Join a project: Finding something you're passionate and/or skilled in is a great place to start. Get to know our current projects, then sign up!
- Guest Blog: We want to share voices from all over the watershed and from all points of view. Check out our blog and get in touch!
- Artistic Works: Creating meaning through the arts is one of the most powerful ways we build relationships with the watershed.
- Photography: We are proud to feature local photographers. Do you have stunning photos of the region that you would share with us?
Knowledge is power: Discover and learn...
The Oldman watershed is a large, diverse land and water system in southern Alberta, covering 23,000km in southwestern Alberta and 2100 km in Montana. You can enhance your knowledge by reading these articles:
- AN INTRODUCTION TO OUR HOME: In this essay, Lorne Fitch, P. Biol., describes what the Oldman watershed means to him and and the people of our region.
- BENEFITS OF A HEALTHY WATERSHED: People have always recognized the importance of water – early settlements were built around sources of freshwater. In this section, we look at some of the main benefits of a healthy watershed and water supply.
- VIDEO WALKTHROUGH: This presentation uses maps to powerfully illustrate how the landscape has changed from 1905 to 2010 and how it will continue to change into the future (up to 2060).