Improving Water Quality to Sustainable Communities and Ecosystems

By Olds College Centre for Innovation

Use of native wetland plants on cold climate floating island systems for the phyto-remediation of water with excess nutrients, the quantification of the hyper-accumulation capabilities, and the water use efficiency of each species of native wetland plants, has been the focus of the Wetland and Applied Research Program at the Environmental Stewardship division of the Olds College Centre for Innovation. 

Water and water security represents one of the key components of life and one of the core components that determines the success and failure of ecosystems.  With the potential impacts of climate change on our water supply, the urgency of protecting and cleaning water has never been more evident.  The main methods for cleaning water used today focus on the physical and chemical.  Some of these methods treat the symptoms while others allow true solutions.   However, there is another area of remediation of water that is becoming a growing interest and this is in biological and ecological engineering.  Phyto-remediation holds a potential to create functioning ecosystems that allow for water to be remediated effectively, economically, and passively. In addition to water remediation, this technology provides many other advantages such as wildlife habitat, natural ecosystem functions and nutrient cycling, and anthropogenic assistance.

Improving water quality at the source of contamination is an important goal for developing sustainable communities and vegetated treatment islands can be implemented in agricultural, indigenous, urban, industrial, and other world environments as an effective and efficient water management tool.  The results from this research show great potential for removing nutrients for in-situ water treatment using vegetated cold climate floating islands.

During the CoVid-19 pandemic, the Olds College Centre for Innovation hosted a webinar to present the findings of the projectThe webinar was recorded and can be accessed on the OCCI website here.

 

                                     

Carex aquatilis (Water Sedge) Feb 18, 2019                 Carex aquatilis (Water Sedge) Aug 01, 2019

 

 

 

 

Your Trees do have Value

by the Agroforestry & Woodlet Extension Society 

Most people that live in Alberta have trees as part of their landscape. That can be in the yard around their home as ornamentals and fruit trees, or it can be in rural Alberta as large tracts of natural native trees that existed prior to any land clearing or shelterbelts and windbreaks that have been planted over the years. Those trees have a large variety of value to the owners and the communities in the province. So how do you find out those values and what can you do manage or improve those values?

In 2019 the Agroforestry & Woodlot Extension Society initiated a project, with support from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, to assist primarily rural landowners of acreages and farms in learning about the value of their trees and also how manage aspects of the trees to improve the growth and quality of the trees and the overall value of their property. However, the project efforts can also benefit landowners in cities, towns, and small hamlets as all these areas have plenty to trees and can use some assistance.

The project involved meeting with landowners talking about their treed area or about an area they would like in trees and providing them advise on best way to achieve their goals. In many cases, the conversation turned to how to successfully plant more trees or how to improve the health and growth of their existing trees. Over the past year the program resulted in benefits to over 30 landowners, leading to six new planting projects that involved planting over 20,000 trees on private lands in central and northwest Alberta. It also has the potential of creating another 6-8 projects that will be planted in the spring of 2021, with a growing number as the project proceeds.

So, what are some of the values that might come from your trees? There are obvious values like producing wood if the tree is cut down, to be used in the manufacture of many things, including most of the homes in Alberta, but there are a lot of other values that they can provide as they stand and live in our backyards. As examples: trees will affect the microclimate (climate of a localised area) around them, primarily by altering wind, potentially reducing heating and cooling costs by 17.5% – 25%, and protecting livestock; they act as a physical buffer for odours and particulates, improving air quality; the reduction of wind speed prevents the movement of valuable topsoil off of fields and helps prevent the drying situation that leads to loose soils in the first place. One of the most beneficial synergies of trees is in how they interact with water and water bodies on a property. Their ability to control snow can be quite extensive, and they can act as water filters for runoff. Wooded areas also offer a variety of habitats for wildlife, which in turn offer their own benefits.

This partnership has allowed us to demonstrate that there are many and varied values the forested areas and trees can have, from their economic values to their inherent value as natural areas. Due to the complexity of these forested areas and trees, it is important to look at each case individually, and assess a forest or shelterbelt’s value on a case-by-case basis. All of this is explained in detail in the educational document produced as part of the project on the many and wonderful values that trees provide to people.

ReFraming the WaterShed raises the roof on sustainable building

Submitted by ReThink Red Deer

For the last five years, an ambitious group of organizations, businesses, and volunteers have been busy as beavers at the Piper Creek Community Gardens. Together, we’ve done some cool things like install one of Canada’s largest Food Forests and Pollinator Gardens, restore the banks of Piper Creek, and plant lots of new beaver habitat! Oh ya, AND we hosted some hungry goats with the City’s Parks Department!

But in the summer of 2017, we were sad to see the old iconic barn be demolished for safety reasons. The site looked so empty because, in spite of all the beautiful plants growing, it’s just not the same when you know what it looked like before.

So we teamed up with our friends at Top Peg Timber Frame Construction and Living Lands Landscape and Design to host a community barn raising that replaced the beloved structure and aims to break the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Pollinator Hotel…! With a lot of hard work and persistence we secured a $25,000 grant from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation to host local timber framers and coordinate the project, plus $27,766 from the Government of Alberta’s Community Facility Enhancement Program, $40,000 from Co-Op’s Community Spaces program for barn materials, and official approvals (permits) from The City of Red Deer.

The new barn design is an open-air timber frame structure to harvest rainwater for the planted areas of the site and the walls serve as space for installing pollinator habitat (with the help of Living Lands) making it Canada’s largest pollinator hotel and supporting – in a BIG way – the City of Red Deer’s Pollinator Parks initiative!

Check out photos of the barn raising held on the 2019 Alberta Culture Days weekend, alongside our Fall Harvest Supper and Garlic City Market – click here.

picture of raised timberframe barn

Piper Creek Timberframe Barn – constructed by Top Peg Timber Frame Construction and High Peak Timberframing (Sept, 2019), sponsored by Alberta Real Estate Foundation, The Government of Alberta, and Federated Co-Op’s “Community Spaces” program.

 

What do rural landowners need to know about inactive and orphaned wells?

Pembina Institute’s latest primer on oil and gas liabilities in Alberta

By Nikki Way and Morrigan Simpson-Marran

Increasingly, Albertans have heard about the number of oil and gas wells that sit inactive, neglected, or potentially orphaned in this province. Inactive and orphaned well numbers are growing in parallel with a prolonged energy recession in Alberta since 2014. Often this issue is discussed in an abstract way, mainly focusing on the financial implications for the province or referencing liabilities that companies do not have the funds to properly care for, which raises questions about whether some of these wells will be cleaned up at all.

At the end of the day, rural landowners are the ones who have this infrastructure on their land and have to live with these uncertainties. With support from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the Pembina Institute has published the Landowner’s primer: what you need to know about unreclaimed oil and gas wells to help those who are most impacted. Designed as a complementary follow up to our 2016 publication, the Landowners’ Guide to Oil and Gas Development , this primer addresses questions and examines problems landowners face when dealing with operators who are under financial strain and still have unreclaimed oil and gas infrastructure on landowners’ property.

Since the price downturn of 2014, multitudes of oil and gas companies that had accrued significant clean-up costs in Alberta have declared bankruptcy, in some cases leaving their infrastructure under the care of the Orphan Well Association. Many of the names of bankrupt operators have been in the news recently, such as Sequoia Resources, Lexin Resources, Trident Exploration, and Redwater Energy.

Although these are some of the high profile examples of operators who reneged on their responsibility to clean up hundreds – and in some cases, thousands – of wells, there are many other lesser known instances in which landowners are left with few answers for what might happen, or even who they could seek out to get questions answered. Currently in Alberta there are 90,000 inactive wells and 3,406 orphan wells that are up for abandonment (also known as decommissioning), while another 2,772 orphan sites need to be reclaimed.

Frequently, when wells are orphaned, sold off in bankruptcy, or even neglected and left inactive by companies that are financially struggling, landowners are left without an explanation of how to proceed and what their rights are. They may struggle to navigate the process of insolvency, or to understand the role of the operator or the regulator through this process.

The Pembina Institute’s Landowner’s primer outlines what a typical reclamation process should look like, and what issues may arise if the reclamation process does not go as planned. It explains what may happen if the operator on your land declares bankruptcy, and who might take over the responsibility of the well next. It offers guidance on issues such as missed lease payments and who to contact in case of a leak from the well. It also offers advice on how to navigate an untended well site. Should more questions remain, the guide has a list of contacts for landowners in order to get the help they need.

Without legislative changes that can ensure the timely reclamation of oil and gas infrastructure before companies reach their financial limits, many landowners will continue to experience this problem. It is important that as many landowners as possible have resources to navigate this situation.

Whether you are a real estate professional, an organization that works with landowners, or if you have an oil or gas well on your property, this primer is for you. You can download a copy of the Landowner’s primer: what you need to know about unreclaimed oil and gas wells. In addition, you can order a printed copy of the Landowners’ Guide to Oil and Gas Development for the cost of shipping.

Download your copy of the Landowner’s primer. 

About the Pembina Institute
The Pembina Institute is a non-profit think-tank that advocates for strong, effective policies to support Canada’s clean energy transition. We have offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto. Learn more: www.pembina.org

Land Access Strategies for New Farmers in Alberta

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

Statistics Canada reports that only 8 per cent of farmers across the country have a succession plan. Meanwhile they’re getting closer to retirement. The average age of producers in Alberta is 57 and fewer of their children want to take over the family farm.

“Seventy-five per cent of farmers say they will sell their land in the next 10 years. That’s a huge transfer of land,” says Dana Penrice, prairie program manager at Young Agrarians. “At the same time we’re seeing a trend of new farmers coming from non-farming backgrounds.

They’re first generation farmers and they’re looking for land.” AREF is supporting the Young Agrarians’ Organic Alberta project which will research, consult and survey new farmers, older farmers as well as land experts to better understand the upcoming land transfer in Alberta.

The project will host workshops on intergenerational communication, succession planning and other topics regarding land transfer. They’re branding the initiative: ‘Want land? Got land?’

“What we’re facing is a really significant change in assets in terms of land and farm ownership,” says Penrice.

“We need to figure out this whole land access issue. How do we match up people who are looking for land and people who have land?”

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Precision Agriculture at Olds College

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

A Smart Farm uses GPS, soil scanning and a number of other technologies connected to the internet to employ precision agriculture—that is, being selective with farm management techniques to increase the quality and quantity of food production.

With support from AREF, Olds College is developing a multimedia Smart Ag Digital Story Map to showcase the science and technology used on a Smart Farm. “It harnesses the power of both maps and stories to capture the different perspectives of our Olds College Smart Farm partners,” says Jason Bradley, the director of Smart Ag at Olds College. “We’re capturing the value proposition of each product or service provided to show how the technology works and how it interacts and performs as part of our connected farm or smart ag ecosystem.” Agriculture and agrifood production are predicted to be among the top drivers of Alberta’s future GDP growth so it’s important to help educate people about new technologies in the sector. “Stories and maps have been how we have shared knowledge and information since the dawn of time,” says Bradley. “The project is validating the best practises on our farm and helps us prove to those who will inherit this land that we stewarded it to the best of our knowledge and capability.”

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

 

 

Methods of Remediation of Contaminated Water and Excess Nutrients

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

Research at Olds College has determined at least three native wetland plants in Alberta—sedges, cattails and bulrushes—are “working very well” removing contaminants and excess nutrients from the water. “There’s no data that indicates what plants, what kind of contaminants or nutrients each plant takes up and how much the plants can take up at a time,” says Ruth Elvestad, research technician at Olds College Centre for Innovation.

That’s why AREF supported furthering the research with a project called: Use of Native Wetland Plants and Cold Climate Floating Island Systems for the Remediation of Contaminated Water and Water with Excess Nutrients. The project will test several more native wetland plants to help landowners understand the value of wetlands on their property and how different plants can clean up different contaminants.

“We would say let’s test the water that has algae or other contaminants,” says Elvestad. “Then we should be able to say ‘This is what you’ve got going on in your pond so you need plant X, Y or Z and this is how many you need of each in order to assist in cleaning your water so it can be recycled and used in agriculture, irrigation, and other applicable industries.’”

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Rural Climate Solutions Online Resources and Broadcasting

2017-2018 Annual Report Highlight

The Stettler Learning Centre is creating a series of podcasts and a website that are “part educational tool, part source of inspiration” aimed at Alberta producers who want to understand what they can do on the farm to help move toward a clean energy economy.

“This podcast comes straight out of Alberta—one of Canada’s biggest agriculture and energy producers— and dives into the technology and practices that are both good for the farm and good for the climate,” says Derek Leahy, the project coordinator for Rural Routes to Climate Solutions at the Stettler Learning Centre. “The agriculture sector is often characterized as a cause of climate change as opposed to a solution but most people do not realize that there are farming practices that can help us in the fight against climate change.”

From solar power to better land management, many of the practices that can help the environment can also help improve farming and ranching operations. “There are many producers who do not realize many climate solutions can help their farming and ranching operations thrive,” says Leahy. For example, using biodiversity can boost productivity, manage pests and help the land endure Alberta’s endless cycle of floods and droughts. Another podcast covers the benefits of formalizing a cooperative among agricultural producers to save on costs and minimize operators’ environmental footprints.

“Producers are constantly looking for opportunities and new techniques to improve my agricultural operations,” says Leahy. “Our project connects those dots by providing clear, informative and entertaining explanations on how producers can benefit from using climate solutions on their land.”

AREF’s support for the project allows the Learning Centre extend an existing program that received funding from the Alberta Government Community Environment Action Grant program. The initial program developed workshops and other materials for producers about agricultural and land-use practices that reduce carbon emissions.

Turning those materials into podcasts provides a really convenient method for producers to consume the information. “For producers, time is limited and it is also a precious commodity. But with the podcast, a producer can simply download episodes on to his or her phone and listen on the job, particularly on those days that they’re on a tractor or combine all day.” says Leahy.

“It is our hope that through this easily accessible method of learning, producers will be informed and inspired to use climate solutions on their farms. They will benefit and we will all benefit from this.”

Listen to the Rural Routes to Climate Solutions podcast here!

Read the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s full 2017-2018 Annual Report.

University of Alberta Enhances Research on Urban Expansion

“Urban Alberta is spilling into rural,” says Brent Swallow, an environment and development economist. Too often, decisions about land designation are driven by short-term goals, he says. But there are long-term costs to development and to the “ecosystem services” that rural land provides for cities, such as clean air and water.

Balancing urban expansion with rural conservation is challenging and heavily influenced by people’s attitudes and beliefs. For example, do urbanites in Alberta want to preserve the rural land around their cities? Do they want more locally grown produce at the farmers markets? Are they willing to pay extra to keep the city outskirts green?

The Alberta Real Estate Foundation wants to find answers to these questions to help the real estate industry better understand issues around land stewardship. The foundation’s $50,000 donation will make it possible for Swallow and his research team in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences to conduct a province wide survey of urban attitudes toward fragmentation, conversion and conservation of agricultural land.

What Lies Beneath? Buyer beware

It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: You buy a home, move in, then find out there’s an abandoned gas well beneath, leaking and contaminating your property. Think it can’t happen to you? It can. According to the Energy Resources Conservation Board in November 2012 over 150,000 abandoned well sites dotted the Alberta landscape, making it essential that buyers do their homework.

These nightmares happen because of gaps between what Albertans should know, could know and actually do know about their environment,” says Adam Driedzic, Staff Counsel and author of a new Environmental Law Centre publication, What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta.

In real estate transactions the onus is generally on the buyer to do their due diligence and the general rule for buying and selling real estate is ‘buyer beware’. Unfortunately there’s no checklist to prove due diligence and no one-stop shop for environmental information.

The best way to demonstrate due diligence is to identify environmental concerns, learn what information is available about those concerns and act on that knowledge. Buyers who make inquiries into the environmental conditions of the specific site and the local area are in the best position to make sound choices and solid deals.

Most land in Alberta has already been used for something. In Calmar, oil and gas extraction took place on farmland that was re-zoned, subdivided, developed into a residential community and sold without exposing what lay beneath or what other activities had taken place on the land previously.

And in Alberta it isn’t just oil and gas activities that are concerning. Whether you’re looking to buy a giant parcel of farmland or a tiny infill lot in the city, there are many activities that can impact the land, air and water that surround your potential new home. Feedlots, pesticide application, old dry-cleaners or landfills – even recreational activities like off highway vehicle use – can affect your quality of life.

What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta provides practical information-finding tips, outlines environmental concerns you may want to think about and describes where to get started to find the information you need to make the best choices when buying property in Alberta. A twelve-page booklet based on this guidebook, Buyer Beware, is also available.

The Environmental Law Centre is Alberta’s leading environmental public policy and law reform charity. The full publication and booklet can both be downloaded on the Environmental Law Centre website.

From Street to Stream – Calgary Feb. 10, 2015

The Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society (Cows & Fish) and the Alberta Low Impact Development Partnership Society (ALIDP) invite you to attend our From Street to Stream ½-day workshop.

This collaborative project will weave together the story of cause-and-effect between land development and real-estate features and actions at the lot and neighbourhood level through to outcomes, impacts, and remedial actions for our streams and riparian areas—taking you From Street to Stream.

This initiative is sponsored by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the Calgary Foundation, and the RBC Blue Water Project.

FAQs

Is this event open to anyone?

Yes!

Substitutions

Substitutions are fine. Please let us know who you are substituting for so we can keep an accurate count.

Parking

Parking is free, but limited, in the gravel lot immediately to the west of the Water Centre. Erlton is the closest LRT station.

I can’t make this workshop. Will this workshop be offered at another time or place?

Yes. We expect to offer this workshop in Lethbridge, Red Deer, Edmonton, and in the Battle River Watershed in February – dates are pending. If you are interested in hosting or attending this workshop at another time or location, please contact the organizer and let us know. We’d love to make it happen.

 

 

Stewarding Lac La Biche, by Living Lakes Canada

Lac La Biche is the seventh largest lake in Alberta, with importance to the local economy and culture.  Local and provincial government, in collaboration with lake stakeholders, created a watershed management plan for Lac La Biche in 2009, but little has been done to date to implement it.  That is soon about to change, with the formation of the Stewards of the Lac La Biche Watershed, a group of community stakeholders committed to implementing the monitoring, outreach and stewardship recommendations in the plan.  With the support of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the newly formed group will be able to take on activities that will increase publicly available science about the lake and provide means of disseminating that information to stakeholders.  Since the project start date, a group of steering committee members has formed to work out the mechanics of the group so that it will make the broadest and most enduring impact on protecting the lake values.

Location of Lac La Biche

 

 

 

Back by popular demand: Green Acreages Guide

If you or a client escaped the city to a small acreage, would you know how to protect and maintain it? Would you know where your water comes from or where your septic tank resides? What are your responsibilities when it comes to weed control and how could municipal bylaws affect you? These are just some of the topics explored in The Green Acreages Guide Primer, Stewardship for Small Acreages. This Primer was written and released by Land Stewardship Centre, accompanied by a more detailed and self- directed Green Acreages Guide workbook for landowners.
Land Stewardship Centre (LSC) is an Edmonton-based organization, working throughout Alberta and western Canada, that helps people improve their understanding of healthy ecosystems. They encourage the development of practices and policies that support sustainable resource use. LSC has watched the ownership of small acreages, hobby farms and recreational properties grow over the years. In 2002, LSC developed its first booklet for this audience entitled “Tips and References for Owners of Acreages and Small Farms.” A subsequent production was released in 2005. Demand for this publication was strong and in 2010, LSC was approached about reprinting the original. The demand for information on how best to manage rural properties in a sustainable manner was still strong. This provided the ideal opportunity for Land Stewardship Centre to update their information and try something a bit different.
Land Stewardship Centre has published two connected documents: a Primer and a Workbook. When property owners understand the basics outlined in the Primer, they may be ready to discover new ways to steward their acreage or recreational property. At this point they are ready for the Workbook. This comprehensive guide features charts and templates they can use to plan and store information about their property.
The Alberta Real Estate Foundation was the key sponsor of the Primer and in helping distribute both documents through real estate professionals. Cheryl De Paoli, Executive Director at the Foundation said, “We welcomed news of this initiative as it provides a single source for this type of information. We believe it will become a valued resource for new and existing landowners who wish to be more sustainable.”
The Green Acreages Guide Workbook is available for purchase from Land Stewardship Centre for $29.95 plus GST. For a REALTOR, it may be the perfect gift to give a new rural customer. For more information on the Land Stewardship Centre, or to purchase the Workbook, visit their website at www.landstewardship.org