Wednesday, 15 February 2012 12:09

Oldman Watershed Council experiencing a financial shortfall

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By Susan Quinlan
Southern Alberta
Although few would argue the work done by the Oldman Watershed Council (OWC) is an essential part to preserving the commodity everyone relies on, it is currently experiencing a funding shortfall of $130,000 that will compromise delivery of its programs.

“Usually, we get money from the province to operate and that pays for staff and a couple of other things, but it’s not enough,” said Shannon Frank, executive director of the OWC.

To actually deliver programming, Frank said the OWC relies on the generosity of municipalities and irrigation districts.

“Municipalities and irrigation districts have been our main, ongoing donors. Grant money is touch and go; they don’t fund long-term projects.”

To keep programming afloat, Frank has sought out sponsorships for some of the OWC’s annual programming, such as the Holding the Reins Landowner Symposium. This year, the tab for the symposium was generously covered by the Alberta Beef Producers, with keynote speaker sponsorship as well provided by Viterra, the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, Ducks Unlimited and Farm Credit Canada.

The Holding the Reins Landowner Symposium is a popular event, said Frank, with this year’s symposium having the highest attendance ever.

With lectures on everything from the role climate change will play in triggering more extreme weather events, greater variability in weather and more drought, through to concerns expressed by Adam Driedzic, Environmental Law Centre, who rang the bell on existing legislation being woefully inadequate in protecting the headwaters, Frank said the 120 in attendance took part in an informative day.

Meanwhile, the funding crunch remains front and centre in Frank’s mind.

“We’ve had quite a few donations come in, but a number of municipalities have given us less than in the past, but we do get really good support from them.”

Frank realizes municipalities are contributing less because they too are feeling the pinch.

“It’s been tight for all of us the last couple of years.”

Meanwhile, Frank has continued to search for funds.

“It takes a lot of time to do the grant writing and search for funds, so then I’m not focussing on the watershed.

“The province only gave us half of what they usually give us. We usually get $250,000, but we’ve only received $125,000 from Alberta Environment and Water. They said there would be more, but our new fiscal year (starts) April 1.”

In addition to the annual Holding the Reins symposium, supplying grants to landowners for specific projects, conducting tours and various watershed related workshops, Frank said the OWC undertakes projects of a single year’s duration, funded by Alberta Environment and Water. One such project most people are familiar with is the annual State of the Watershed Report, but this year, the OWC as well pursued funding for a second report which is a groundwater study of Willow Creek.

“This was another one we asked for; how can we protect the water if we have no studies telling us what’s there. We tried to establish how much groundwater there is, …,” but, because there are no data available regarding recharging rates, the location of aquifers or any other such related data, there is much to do.

“This Willow Creek groundwater study is the first small step toward looking at it.”

At the very least for now, said Frank, those who carried out the initial study of Willow Creek have recommended a monitoring plan be put in place.

“The key thing we’re looking at determining is, are we taking too much.”

In order to determine that, Frank said the monitoring plan must be put in place as soon as possible.

“Now we need the money and people to do that monitoring. Alberta Environment (and Water) does not have the money or people to do it either, so

we’re looking for college and university students to do the monitoring. We’ve had an informal talks about this.

“It desperately needs to be done; there’s lots of concern over (hydro) fracking, …”

Frank said it would take a significant investment to set up the infrastructure needed to proceed with the Willow Creek groundwater study, as about half a dozen wells are required to provide enough data to determine the current supply.

“We’re hoping we don’t have to drill too many wells. We’re really hoping the post-secondary institutions can help us out.”

For more information about the Oldman Watershed Council go to: or phone 403-382-4239.

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