May 30th, 2024

SEAWA screening advocates for greater care with water during drought

By ANNA SMITH on April 24, 2024.

Attendees gather outside the MHPL theatre on Monday night.--News Photo Anna Smith

asmith@medicinehatnews.com

Monday night saw naturalists, concerned residents and members of the South East Alberta Watershed Alliance gather in the library theatre for a documentary and to open discussion on the region’s ongoing drought.

The documentary, Dried Up – What now? was created by Livingstone Landowners Group, Kevin Van Tighem and Yvan Lebel, and addresses something which Van Tighem notes is often overlooked within the downstream world of Medicine Hat – the state of the region’s headwaters.

“Headwaters are part of my family landscape,” said Van Tighem. “I spent my whole life up there, and so that landscape has given me a lot of good things over the years and a lot of it has been focused on the creeks; going out camping and fishing and such. And so I got really concerned about what was happening to that landscape before I realized the impact it was having downstream.”

Van Tighem, a well known conservationist and former superintendent of Banff National Park, was heartened to see the turnout to the event, but not surprised. He noted people are overwhelmingly concerned about drought, and want to have conversations about what they can do.

“We’re in a very dry region. Anywhere else in the world, what we call rivers will probably be called creeks,” said Van Tighem. “And as you know, we’re a very water hungry region with a very limited water supply. Droughts matter, and they get people to come out and participate.”

The documentary is the third in a series, with Finding Water and Running Dry its immediate predecessors.

Discussion in the latest instalment focused on the damage done to headwater sites, such as clear cut forestry, as well as the land use along these waterways. The nature of reservoirs and evaporation was also touched on.

“One thing I want to stress is that every single land use decision we make is a water management decision,” said Van Tighem. “We just don’t see it that way. When you modify land, you modify water. And when you modify the headwaters, you modify the entire region because you’re affecting how water gets to it.”

As the region settles into the long dry period, Van Tighem expects to see the situation become more tense, but does believe that current voluntary water restrictions are the right thing to do.

However, he also says there is a duty to stop being so reactive to water scarcity.

“We need to get ourselves into a more proactive stance where we’re actually fixing things. And what that means is we need to look at the places where our water comes from,” said Van Tighem. “Ask ourselves; how can we optimize the water supply out there and stop damaging it? We’re always surprised by the next drought. We’re always surprised by the next flood. Why be surprised?

“You will always have them but they will be more severe as long as you’ve got damaged headwaters. So why don’t we fix the headwaters? You know, it’s not like the future is going away, in fact, it’s getting closer.”

Van Tighem encouraged attendees to get involved and in touch with their local politicians, and in particular, mentioned the upcoming Saskatchewan Regional Plan Review as a way to affect land use policies.

“Every one of us has a role to play. We live in a democracy and that means one of the things that we need to do is engage with our politicians because it’s their job to fix this,” said Van Tighem.”

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