Landowners, county restoring Saskatoon Lake-area wetlands in ‘groundbreaking’ project

·3 min read

The County of Grande Prairie is backing landowners’ requests to have wetlands replaced in the Saskatoon Lake area using provincial funds.

County council approved funding (to be reimbursed by the province) during a recent meeting, marking the first time the county is facilitating a provincial wetlands replacement project.

“I see this as being groundbreaking,” said Dale Van Volkingburgh, county public works director.

“This is the first (wetland replacement) program in Alberta to be approved this way, where a landowner requests and a municipality facilitates.”

Associated Engineering, representing the landowners of the two sites, approached the county expressing interest in creating wetlands on the properties approximately a year ago, he said.

Nancy Hope and Art Rigby have 0.5 hectares of land west of Little Lake where a marsh and shallow open water habitat can be restored, according to Alberta Environment.

Chris Andersen has property west of Lake Saskatoon where Alberta Environment is proposing restoring a 2-ha wetland.

“It’s so exciting and I can’t wait for the spring,” Hope said.

“We should have more habitat for the ducks, the geese and the swans.”

Hope said she was approached by Andersen who suggested they pursue wetland replacement. She said the work was done on a section of her hayfield that floods every year.

Due to wet conditions, she said she and Rigby had no plans to farm it. Creating a wetland can provide an educational experience to visitors of the nearby Saskatoon Island Provincial Park, she added.

County council approved $114,699 for the Hope and Rigby project and $194,375 for the Andersen project, with the full amount to be refunded by the province, Van Volkingburgh said.

The county will manage the contract and use the funds to pay the contractor, he said.

The costs were determined after the county issued a request for proposal and the subcontractor Green Acre was hired, he said.

According to Alberta Environment, the restoration includes vegetation planting at the Hope and Rigby as well as the Andersen properties.

A surface water wetland can also be restored by excavating an area that receives overland drainage. The Hope and Rigby property contains loam and clay so there is no need to import soil, according to Alberta Environment.

The Saskatoon Lake-area projects should be complete by next summer, Van Volkingburgh said.

The province had a wetland replacement program before, but this will be the first time the county has been involved, Van Volkingburgh said.

He said greater involvement can benefit the county because the county is already paying compensation to Alberta Environment when road work or another project disturbs wetlands.

When the county gets involved it can have a greater say on how the funds are used, whereas in the past Alberta Environment could spend the county dollars in another municipality, he said.

In this case, Van Volkingburgh said it wasn’t county work but rather private activity that disturbed the wetlands near Saskatoon Lake.

Van Volkingburgh said another reason for the county to get involved is the environmental benefit.

“We’re being good stewards of the land,” he said.

Van Volkingburgh said any landowner with an interest in replacing disturbed wetlands can approach the county by calling the public works office at 780-532-7393 or administration.

The county will then refer the landowner to the appropriate channels in Alberta Environment, where staff will assess if it meets criteria for provincial funding, he said.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News