Study of three local rivers found intact riparian areas

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

A recent survey done for the Lesser Slave Watershed Council found that the three rivers in the study had quite healthy riparian areas.

“You’re in really good shape,” said Shari Clare, at a special watershed meeting on April 9.

Clare is one of the scientists at FIERA Biological Consulting, who prepared a West Prairie River Riparian Area Assessment, which was completed March 2021.

The study looked at the West Prairie River, Golden Creek, and McGowan Creek, which have a combined shoreline of 606 kilometres. The Golden and McGowan flow into the West Prairie.

The study found that the riparian area was 85 per cent natural and 15 per cent anthropogenic (human-impacted). Most of the anthropogenic portion was downstream (north) which included the Town of High Prairie and the farming around there.
LSWC water quality monitoring has found higher amounts of fecal coliform (from feces) in the West Prairie River than other tested rivers in the watershed.

The West Prairie River is the source of the drinking water for the Town of High Prairie and parts of Big Lakes County.

Clare said that LSWC could realistically aim to rehabilitate all disturbed areas and “conserve and manage areas that are already in good condition.”

Riparian areas are at the edges of water bodies (lakes, streams, and wetlands), said Clare. They are influence by land and water processes, but the movement of water is the primary driver of physical, biological, and chemical processes.

Riparian areas vary in size, slope, and groundwater, so are “really difficult systems to accurately map,” said Clare. The new study used a GIS (Geographic Information System) data.

This is a relatively new style of mapping developed by FIERA in Alberta. It has been used in several watersheds which allows comparison.

The study looks at how intact to disturbed an area is and the pressure on the riparian by the state of the land just past it.

The study is “not a replacement for doing fine scale field assessment,” says Clare. It does however give a broad overall picture.

There are two other types of riparian mapping techniques. One is on the ground intensive study, which is used on a small scale. The other is aerial which is used a on medium scale.

At the meeting, LSWC director Meghan Payne said LSWC has aerial maps of Lesser Slave Lake’s shoreline (2005), South Heart River (2008) and Swan River (2011).

As part of LSWC’s ongoing watershed resiliency work, on-the-ground surveys are done.

The complete study will soon be available on www.lswc.ca and https://riparian.info/#/nav.

Landowners interested in being part of the watershed resiliency program can call 780-523-9800.

The riparian area on the banks of Sawridge Creek in Slave Lake.

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