Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Water Management in Alberta’s Boreal was the title of a conference held in Grande Prairie last month. It brought together over 100 people to hear from an impressive array of experts on challenges, opportunities, projects and so on.

At the heart of the organizing team was Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council Executive Director Meghan Payne. It was the first such event ever attempted by the northern watershed groups, but it looks as if it won’t be the last.

“We got a lot of positive feedback,” Payne says. “People were saying, ‘let’s make it annual!’”

She’s not sure about that, but maybe every other year? There seems to be an appetite for it.

Payne says her first attempt at organizing a conference on northern water issues was just her, and was intended for Slave Lake. But difficulty in getting speakers to commit, and then uncertainty about a venue, scuttled that. The next chapter in the saga was to sound out her counterparts from northern Alberta’s other two WPACs (Watershed Public Advisory Committee), the Mighty Peace and the Athabasca. The three directors settled on Grande Prairie, hammered out an agenda for a two-day event, and started lining up speakers.

These included Dr. Rodney Guest of Suncor, Allison Moeller of Slave Lake Pulp and representatives of Ducks Unlimited, Cows & Fish, Trout Unlimited Canada and Aquaterra, the company that handles all of the City of Grande Prairie’s water and wastewater services – among others.

“Great presentations,” Payne says.

Besides the top-rate information shared by these experts, Payne says, there was a lot of ‘networking’ that went on. She herself met all sorts of people working in environmental management in the north, she says – making connections that she hopes to follow up on. One of them was with Bin Xu of NAIT Boreal Centre. She says she learned from him about a couple of sites north of Lesser Slave Lake that NAIT has set up to study the impact of disturbance on peatlands and their recovery. She hopes to visit the sites sometime this year.

The Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council is one of Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) in the province and one of three in the north.

WPACs mandate is to provide education and outreach, environmental stewardship, watershed evaluation and reporting, and watershed management planning, says www.alberta.ca.

LSWC conducts programs such as water quality sampling, community workshops and education within the schools. Members of municipal councils from the area sit on its board. Some municipalities also contribute funds. Community members and industry reps also on the LWSC board.

Petra Rowell, Athabasca Watershed Council, at a conference put on by various watershed councils in Grande Prairie.
Photo courtesy of Lesser Slave Watershed Council.
Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) in Alberta. Courtesy of the Alberta government.