The Bow Riverkeeper returns

By Emily Senger

More than 100 years of extensive irrigation and public misuse have taken their toll on the source of Calgary’s drinking water.

Last summer, three adventurers and their dog embarked upon the Big Bow Float, a four-week, 657-kilometer canoe trip down the Bow River to raise awareness of water use and misuse, in hopes of getting people to think twice before turning on the tap. Now, adventurer and head of the Bow Riverkeeper Organization Danielle Droitsch will share her experiences and photos of last summer’s journey in a free community presentation.

“This will be our first big presentation about our Big Bow Float,” said Droitsch. “It will be a visual tour of the Bow River watershed to share some of our best stories and pictures about what we saw along the way.”

Droitsch and her companions on the journey­–outdoorsman Don Van Hout, environmentalist Jim Kievit and his dog Rocco–spent the summer spreading the message of current unsustainable water usage on the Bow, which provides the drinking water for Calgary and is widely used for irrigation downstream.

The trio made media stops along their trip to inform the public that the Alberta government issues more water usage permits for the Bow than there is water in the river.

According to Droitsch, if everyone used all of his or her permitted water, the life-sustaining river would dry up. Though last summer’s flooding made this scenario seem unlikely, Droitsch said the public is quick to forget the reality of river overuse, which occurred during the summer drought of 2001.

“Part of the wake up call was in 2001 when there was more water allocated than was available,” said Droitsch. “The flooding came as a great surprise to us as we were planning our journey, since we were planning to highlight the low flow. It would have been a lot easier for us to have chosen perhaps 2001, which wasn’t so off the map and where the river dries up.”

The Alberta government has realized their current practices are unsustainable and has recently proposed closing both the Bow and the Old Man basins to further permits. Droitsch said this proposal is only a start to remedy years of overuse.

“We’re still in a hole,” said Droitsch. “When we close the basin that doesn’t mean the river is going to recover. People have a license for life. We need to give incentives to licensees to give water back, or to take water in the off-times and store it.”

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