A wetland restoration project by the enthusiastic members of the Riverhurst Communities in Bloom committee has received federal funding to preserve and improve this green space at the main village entrance.
Riverhurst Communities in Bloom committee member Penny Gustafson, who is the project lead for the wetland project, said the group is very excited about the funding support from the Canadian government’s Environmental Damages Fund.
This fund is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. It uses funds received from fines, court orders and voluntary payments for environmental damage to support projects across the country that restore the environment and conserve wildlife and habitats.
“We feel the wetland restoration will provide a lot environmentally,” she mentioned. “It will provide a constant level of water in there for the wetland species, which is really important. We want the birds to keep coming back.”
The size of the wetland is approximately 3.5 acres. It has deteriorated over the years and is now full of weeds. The goal of the project is to restore it to a healthy and functional prairie wetland ecosystem.
“Weeds really took over and it's just very weedy and ugly,” she said. “There's not always a lot of water in there, and it's just not very pleasant. That's the first thing that you see when you go into Riverhurst. So we just decided we needed to do something about it.”
An important part of the restoration project is to deepen a portion of the wetland basin to provide a constant water level for waterbirds and other wetland species. The project will also include the creation of swales, canals, and ponds with an overflow and drainage system for flood management during high rainfall periods.
The work will be done in consultation with experts and it will be guided by hydrology, engineering and biology assessments of the area.
“We'll be planting some shrubs and some other species that need to be there,” she said. “We have a biologist coming to tell us what to do with that.”
Wetlands are important and dynamic ecosystems that store water and provide habitat for a variety of plant and animal species. Human activities have caused significant wetland loss in Saskatchewan and the preservation of remaining wetlands are therefore important.
The Riverhurst wetland restoration project might help to raise more awareness about the importance of wetlands. The green space created by the wetland and surrounding area will be a benefit to the local community and area.
“One of our initiatives when we prepared the grant was we're hoping for this to be a demonstration site for other municipalities and farmers to maybe do this kind of thing in another community to restore their wetlands,” she said. “As well, there's a regional park just seven kilometres away. So it's not just for the village of Riverhurst, but for those people who live at the park and who visit in the summer will definitely be able to use it. They will have more reason to come into Riverhurst and be part of the village.”
The wetland area is part of a larger green space of close to nine acres, where the Communities in Bloom members and volunteers are planting trees.
“This spring and summer we're hoping to include students from the local school at Central Butte to come and help plant, just to learn about the importance of forestry and trees, mulching and everything that has to do with trees. So we're hoping in May or June that some of the younger students can come out.”
The planting of trees in this green space already started in 2019 and the wetland restoration project is therefore an important new phase of the overall initiative to beautify and green the community. Shand Greenhouse has been providing hundreds of tree seedlings and the intention is to establish a shelterbelt on the nine-acre site and to have a tree nursery to replace dying trees in the community.
“The trees are very important environmentally,” Gustafson said. “It's going to add more to our urban forest in the village. Riverhurst is full of trees and it's an important part of our village. ... So as the village trees die, because they're very mature trees and they're getting old and have not been replaced, the tree nursery will be used to replace those trees and just to add more within the village.”
The total cost of the wetland restoration project will be $146,100. The federal funding is $104,000 and the remaining costs will be in-kind, including support from the Village of Riverhurst, Shand Greenhouse, and interpretative signage from WayLyn Signs in Montmarte.
Project activities will start this summer and the restoration work will be completed over a two-year period. It will include wheelchair accessible pathways as well as a platform for bird watching.
Details about the wetland restoration project is available on the Village of Riverhurst website at: www.riverhurst.ca/the-riverhurst-wetland