Protecting Water and Wetlands in Bragg Creek

Information Evening
Thursday, April 7th, 2005
Bragg Creek Community Centre


Dr. Cathy Ryan (U. Calgary)
Impacts on Elbow River water quality

Norine Ambrose (Cows & Fish)
Ribbons of green: the value of streamside habitat

Dr. Roy Crowther
Water for life in Bragg Creek

Sponsored by the Long-Term Vision Group

Meeting Notes

About 150 people showed up to hear some fascinating facts, interesting stories and a few worrisome warnings about the condition of the Elbow River and the watershed that surrounds it.
Dr. Cathy Ryan of the University of Calgary took the opportunity to revisit the area and refresh our understanding of the conditions she’s observed over the years. In 1999-2000 Dr. Ryan’s students did a comprehensive study of the Elbow River and Bragg Creek. They tested the water quality in the rivers and in the wells of homes in the hamlet. They talked to residents about their opinions and concerns regarding water quality. Since then, Dr. Ryan and her students have done further studies of the area and the water that we use in our homes.
The key to the water issue in the hamlet is the gravel that fills the floodplain of the river. Most of the hamlet is built on gravel and sand. When waste seeps out of the septic systems located in the area, there is very little filtration of contaminants. The contaminants flow underground. They can potentially contaminate adjacent wells and the river when they flow back into it. Shocking contaminated wells with chlorine doesn’t work as contaminated groundwater will recontaminate the well within weeks.
Three very important findings from the 2000 study were given another look.

  • One was the idea that residents don’t mind living with contaminated water as long as the condition of the water can be used to stop development. In fact residents don’t want contaminated water, but they don’t want development either.
  • The second finding was the statement that there can’t be much of a problem if no one is getting sick. Maybe we’ve adapted to the bugs in the water. Visitors to South America or South Asia get very sick when they drink untreated water. The locals have no problem with the water. Same here. When people visit Bragg Creek or live here temporarily, drinking untreated water could harm their health.
  • Slapping her forehead and exclaiming, “Why didn’t I think of that”, Dr. Ryan explained one of the more puzzling results of her study. Water samples taken from the Elbow upstream and downstream of Bragg Creek showed no significant increase in contaminants. It turns out that the flow of the effluent through the floodplain runs parallel to the river, so the contaminants don’t enter the river until they are quite a way downstream – possibly past the junction of highways 8 and 22.

Acknowledging that her statements are sometimes controversial, Dr. Ryan showed a series of slides that calculated the origin and the volume of the contaminants. It turns out that cattle ranching is a significant contributor to the contamination of the Elbow River as it flows into Calgary where it supplies 45% of the drinking water in the city.

Norine Ambrose of “Cows and Fish” showed some very pretty slides and some that were a little scary. She talked about the need to protect the natural habitat adjacent to rivers and streams – the Riparian Areas.

These green zones:

  • trap, store and slowly release water
  • buffer the impacts of floods and droughts
  • filter water, improving water quality
  • maintain high levels of biodiversity (fish, wildlife and plants) and agricultural production (livestock grazing)

Norine’s slides showed how the roots of the plants that grow along shorelines hold the banks in place and prevent erosion. They also help remove contaminants. She showed how removing the brush along the river is like taking your foot off the brake pedal when going downhill. The water travels faster. It is able to carry more silt downstream, eroding the riverbed and loading sediments in water treatment systems. Land uses in the upland areas are also important. Norine showed that water treatment costs increase with the amount of clearing in a watershed. Inpenetrable surfaces (pavement etc.) also change the amount of water going into the ground and as surface runoff.
She asked us to extend our index finger and point at our neighbours. Try it. You’ll notice that your three other fingers are pointing back at you.

Dr. Roy Crowther is a local resident and an ecologist. He spoke last bringing the message home that we need to protect the natural habitat that surrounds the rivers and streams throughout the Elbow River watershed for our own health and safety and for the city of Calgary. He along with the Elbow River Watershed Partnership drove home the primary message of the evening.
To protect the water quality and quantity of both surface and groundwater in the Bragg Creek area, the following riparian protection measures should be taken. These key measures are based on science and follow the direction other jurisdictions are taking in North America.

  1. 30 metre minimum buffer for riparian areas.
  2. 50 metre minimum buffer for the Elbow River.
  3. Site specific riparian assessment for any proposed development to ensure ecological functionality is retained.
  4. Exclude livestock from riparian areas wherever possible. Encourage financial support for projects to help ranchers achieve this.
  5. Restrict the use of off-road vehicles in riparian areas.
  6. Any proposed changes by landowners in riparian areas such as to drain, ditch or channelize should require approvals and should be discouraged.
  7. Protection of upland forested areas from excessive clearing.
  8. Construction of trails along the periphery of buffer zones.

Speaker Notes

Norine Ambrose

To gain a brief overview of riparian areas, go to our web page:

For a more in-depth review of riparian functions and values, go to:,
Open the document up, pages 1-17 is designed for use by all people, while page 18-43 will be particularly useful for livestock producers.

For more information, go to our publications page and download or request any of our documents:

Contact: Norine Ambrose

Program Manager
Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society – Cows and Fish
2nd Floor, YPM Place
530-8th St. South
Lethbridge, Alberta
T1J 2J8
Phone: 403-381-5538