Flooding along the Sheep River may be a thing of the past, as the Town of Okotoks has taken an environmental approach to managing storm water.
The town is constructing a riparian bio-retention management system for storm water run-off in conjunction with the North Railway Street operations centre. In plain language, the Town is planting vegetation and native plant species in a specific area where storm water collects, which will absorb volumes of water flowing from the operations centre. The water will then be naturally filtered through the ground before find its way back to the river or seeping outward to naturally occurring wells and aquifers. Follow up research will monitor its effectiveness.
What It Will Look Like
From an environment point of view, the riparian site will mimic a forest floor and will absorb and retain the excess water, but will naturally filter it before it is directed back into the Sheep River. Water flowing into this area will come from town run-off – from streets, roof tops and other concrete surfaces. Historically, this type of storm run-off is never filtered or processed and can contain any number of chemicals, oils and undesirable contaminates. During cloud bursts and prolonged rain or excessive snow-pack melts, water can run back into the Sheep River at uncontrollable rates, with whatever contaminates it picks up along the way.
Dawn Smith, Okotoks sustainability coordinator, told the Okotoks Western Wheel that the town’s project is the largest bio-retention research project in Western Canada. This new project is considered to be “green infrastructure”, and is setting an example for other municipalities along Southern Alberta’s Sheep River.
Follow Up Research
This project was created by the Bow River Basin Council and introduced to the town just as upgrades to the operations centre were underway. Research is being conducted by the Civic Engineering Department of the University of Calgary. This inventive research will involve monitoring test flow beds to monitor water samples to truly understand the environmental impact of the project. A section of the riparian area will be fenced off, with daily water samples taken to give scientists an accurate before and after picture of water quality and flow rates.
Developers of the environmentally friendly storm water project in Okotoks are a few years away from discovering how successful the riparian bio-retention experiment will be, given Alberta’s climate and erratic storm patterns and snow-pack conditions. The cost of this project is estimated at $300,000 which is being funded through grants. The cost does not include the research aspect of the project.
Residents of Okotoks will be invited to visit the site to be educated on environmentally sound storm water management. An interpretive centre and walkway through the riparian area will be available for school tours, likely in spring of 2016.
The Town of Okotoks has been an early adopter of environmentally responsible projects and is a leader along the Sheep River corridor in flood mitigation, waste water management and residential solar energy.