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New podcast episode: Water quality and security in mountain headwaters


Annie Webb


Dec 13, 2021


Dec 13, 2021


Water is essential for life. Yet, the privilege of water quality and security is often overlooked. Most of Canada’s sustainable water sources come from glacial runoff and mountain headwaters. These same waters are also being threatened by human impacts like pollution and climate change. As the quality of these sources continues to dwindle, communities ranging from sparsely populated mountain towns to major cities will start to feel the impacts.

In this episode of the Canadian Mountain Podcast, we’ll be discussing the significance of water quality and security and how it relates to Canadian mountains. To examine this, three CMN experts share their research on water quality in the mountains to discuss effects on wildlife, ecosystems and communities across the country. They also discuss the outlook towards the future of Canada’s water security.

Our first guest is Elliot Fox, a member of the Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe) and consultant for CMN’s Knowledge Hub, the Blackfoot Guardianship of East Slope Watersheds. The goal of the Hub is to develop the Blackfoot Nation’s capacity for their role in the guardianship of the Rocky Mountains’ East Slopes, and weave Indigenous knowledge and science together to preserve this important water source. The East Slopes are situated on Blackfoot territory, and water is an integral part of their culture, with songs, traditions and stories passed down through generations.

Our second guest Matt Coombs, a fisheries biologist and consultant for FINtegrate Fisheries & Watershed Consulting, working in collaboration with the Blackfoot Guardianship of East Slope Watersheds. The final guest is Dr. Vincent St Louis, Professor at the University of Alberta, who is leading CMN’s project, From the Mountains to Our Tables: Freshwater Security in Three Canadian Eastern Rocky Mountain Watersheds.

What are watersheds and headwaters?

Watersheds are the area of land where rain and snow melt and drain into a common stream, lake or river. Headwaters are the part of a watershed situated at the highest elevation and they are one of the primary sources of water used by flora, fauna and humans to survive. Mountains intercept more rain and snow that other land areas because of their altitude and proximity to the clouds. This excess water flows down the mountain to nourish the valleys and plains below.

People living in Canada’s Prairies are very dependent on these headwaters from the East Slopes for their water security. However, climate change and increasing human use and development could cause the glaciers located on the East Slopes to disappear in the next century. These water supplies are a finite resource and therefore highly sensitive areas such as the East Slopes need to be prioritized over extractive industries, agriculture or damaging recreational activities. Another major challenge is that legislation that protects watershed areas on the East Slopes is not always enforced.

Understanding how best to manage our land and the water will become increasingly important to ensure that quality and quantity of water is sustained on the East Slopes for the future. It is also vital that our population understands importance of these water systems to help bring attention to these crucial issues.

Listen to the podcast here!

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