A community advocacy group in Calgary wants to see a more dedicated effort to protecting the overall health of the Nose Creek watershed.
“Looking at the health of Nose Creek, it’s not great,” said Andrew Yule, the founder of Save Nose Creek. “I look at the metrics they use, and they classify Nose Creek as 53 per cent unhealthy, and only five per cent healthy. And the rest is just healthy, but it has some problems. We haven’t treated it very well.”
It’s not only local citizens groups that are concerned about the precarious state of the creek’s health – the Nose Creek Watershed Partnership, comprised of reps from the City of Airdrie, Rocky View County, the Town of Crossfield and the City of Calgary, among others, puts the problem quite succinctly in its 2018 Water Management Plan.
“Various water monitoring programs have documented the poor quality of water in Nose and West Nose Creek since the 1980s, with slightly better water quality observed in West Nose Creek,” states the pre-amble to the Water Management Plan. “For the period 1999-2001, the percentage of Nose Creek samples that complied with water quality guidelines was low, particularly for nutrients (e.g., total phosphorus: four per cent compliance; total nitrogen: seven per cent compliance), with slightly better results for West Nose Creek."
From 2009 to 2013, the main water quality challenges were high phosphorus, according to the plan. Other challenges included high salt and total suspended solids concentrations, and high fecal coliform bacteria counts.
Much of that poor quality comes from the various development pressures put on the creek by surrounding jurisdictions over a period of rapid growth in the last few decades, acknowledged City of Airdrie corporate environmental specialist Clint Goodman, who is also the City’s sitting member on the Nose Creek Watershed Partnership board.
The City does take the problem seriously, Goodman said, and is making strides toward lessening its own developmental impacts on the local waterway.
“Development pressures would have an impact on any (river) system,” he stated. “The City of Airdrie is now using recommendations from the Nose Creek Watershed Development Plan. In other words, an environmental reserves policy which takes almost word for word the recommendations on riparian setbacks under the Water for Life strategy from the province itself.”
Goodman added these recommendations allow for the creek to “move and migrate within its channel as well provide that riparian buffer space.”
But Yule remains skeptical of those efforts. He pointed to the recent re-aligning of Nose Creek yet again in Airdrie to facilitate the construction of the new 40th Avenue highway bridge and overpass, which began construction last year and is set to wrap in October 2023.
“One of the contributing factors to it being unhealthy is whenever you re-align the creek, it causes a lot of damage to the creek itself,” he said. “In the past, what we have done with this creek is we have re-aligned it a lot.
“Creeks are meant to wind back and forth, and that is part of what makes it healthy. It helps with flood mitigation, it helps all the biodiversity that lives in and around the creek. But we have chosen to over-develop certain areas in Calgary and channel those parts of the creek (in straight lines). You can see that in Airdrie as well. They are doing all this (overpass) construction on the highway. They basically channelled Nose Creek down the side of Highway 2. And that type of interference with the creek is not good for the health of the creek.”
Goodman acknowledged there have been some potential impacts brought on by that re-channelling, but he didn’t feel, in this case, the results would all be negative.
“The City also recognizes that straightening a channel or re-aligning a channel isn’t always necessarily the best method,” he said. “Over time, we have realized there is a real benefit for that meandering nature of the creek and allowing for it … Much of the creek through that area had been diverted decades ago. Some people probably remember looking down on the left-hand side of the QE2 and seeing Nose Creek in Bridgeland.”
In the case of the 40th Avenue highway bridge, Goodman said re-aligning the creek to get it out of the artificial channel created through the ditch line might somewhat improve the creek’s health in that part of the city over time.
“It’s a sticky one,” he admitted, “Yet, there is some history around that. I think the overall improvement of the creek to get it out of the ditch line is probably more helpful … It’s really a balance between improving the creek on some occasions, and then recognizing (development needs).”
Save Nose Creek recognizes that such trade-offs often seem for the best in the short term as local communities strive to meet their development needs, said Yule. But too often that balance, in his opinion, has tilted in favour of development needs rather than the needs of nature and the broader efforts to revitalize a long-suffering Nose Creek watershed.
“We don’t have an appreciation for what our wetlands do for us,” he said. “Wetlands in all municipalities are dwindling – we have just gone on this development kick that has continued to eliminate a lot of the wetlands we have.
“The only value we put on it is land, and we continue to develop them.”
Goodman agreed that municipalities must meet the challenge of revitalizing an ailing Nose Creek, but he also felt through efforts like the Nose Creek Watershed Partnership, and its own internal policies intended to preserve and enhance ecological health, the City of Airdrie is making strides in that direction. He pointed particularly to the City’s policy on creating new ecological preserves at various points along the creek as it passes through the city as one tangible example.
“The City of Airdrie recognizes the importance of Nose Creek,” he said. “You could say that it is the ecological backbone of the city. It brings it all together, and it is one of our main environmental features. The City of Airdrie holds it in high regard.
“And through that, the City also recognizes the development pressures of a fast-growing city over the last few decades. And (the City of Airdrie) has engaged with the City of Calgary, Rocky View County, the Town of Crossfield, and the Calgary Airport Authority to see measures to protect the creek and protect its overall health through the development of the Nose Creek Watershed Management Plan.”
For more information on Save Nose Creek’s advocacy for the Nose Creek watershed, see a link to their policy proposals here. For more information on the City’s environmental reserve see its Dedication and Use of Environmental Reserves Policy.