Category: 2012, Completed, Grant, Land Use, Major Project


Oldman Watershed Council



Situated in Southern Alberta, the highly developed Oldman watershed faces many pressures that threaten the long-term sustainability of communities and ecosystems. Development and population are expected to increase substantially. Cumulative impacts from the past 100 years of development added to the expected impacts in the future paint a troubling picture of what the Oldman River basin will look like in 50 years. That picture, however, can be difficult to visualize, and even more difficult to understand.

In a digital age, maps are becoming increasingly useful in creating visualizations of impacts. Turning back to 1905, the Oldman Watershed Council will collect and map land use history data from the past 107 years. Digital maps will be used to show time lapses of developments to give a powerful visual representation of how the landscape has changed over time. Laying changes in land use, from the creation of roads, loss of wetlands, or increasing town sizes, will demonstrate the cumulative impacts of development in the Oldman watershed.

These maps are piece of a larger puzzle: this year the Oldman Watershed Council will complete an Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP) for the headwaters of the Oldman River basin. The plan is needed threefold: to manage the cumulative impact of development, to guide action and to build community support for positive change. The maps created in this first phase will be a compelling tool to encourage stakeholders to participate in developing and implementing the Integrated Watershed Management Plan for the headwaters. The visual impact of the maps coupled with direct involvement in the planning process will maximize stakeholder buy-in and willingness to change practices. By integrating the data behind the maps into land use modeling software, the OWC will be able to simulate how the land might change in the next 50 years.

The most significant accomplishment of having these historical landuse maps has been seeing people’s reaction and awe of how much the landscape has changed. Most people are blown away when they see the maps in sequence from 1905 to 2005. When Dr. Brad Stelfox presented the PowerPoint presentation to our Partner Advisory Network the crowd was captivated and it really seemed to resonate with them. People were talking to each other about how slow, almost imperceptable change adds up over time and were using the same words Dr. Stelfox had used earlier in the day. Having these maps to set the context for why there are so many environmental challenges was really valuable and seemed to convince people that the issues are real and cannot be ignored.