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!