Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

Keeping our wetlands healthy with off-site watering systems

Off-site watering system at the Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

Off-site watering system at the Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

In the face of a changing climate, keeping the natural world intact is more important than ever. The services that nature provides are able to help moderate the consequences of extreme weather events, such as fire, flood and drought. For example, healthy wetlands can store water and lessen the effects of flooding. They also help filter nutrients and other pollutants out of water, recharge groundwater, trap sediment and provide habitat for a variety of native species. 

Off-site watering systems (OWS) are a responsible way of managing the wetlands and riparian areas that are found on landscapes that include domestic grazing. Riparian areas are the vegetated lands beside streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands. The soils and vegetation in these areas are strongly influenced by the presence of water. Although they only make up a small portion of the landscape, riparian areas and wetlands are some of the most important lands to protect.

An OWS provides livestock with an alternative place to drink water away from a natural source. This prevents them from having to drink directly from the nearby wetland or riparian area. An OWS helps maintain the water quality and health of the wetland and reduces the trampling of vegetation, compaction of soil, and loss of habitat in the riparian areas.

Other problems that can arise from direct watering can include the reduction in water quality, nutrient buildup and problems to livestock health, such as foot rot, drowning and increased exposure to water-transmitted diseases.

An off-site watering system is not only beneficial for cattle, it is also helpful for the health of the greater wetland, and everything that lives in it.

In the spring of 2017, an offsite watering system was installed on NCC’s Brown property, in the Cooking Lake Moraine Natural Area east of Edmonton. The property, named for the family that homesteaded in the area, had been used for agricultural purposes.

Wetland on the Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

Wetland on the Brown property (Photo by Brent Calver)

This half-section of land is grazed every year by approximately 70 head of cattle.

Before the OWS was installed, the cattle were previously watered from a dugout located in the middle of the existing wetland. Water levels, however, have risen dramatically now that the dugout is no longer visible. This means that cattle are watering along the shoreline of the restored wetland, which directly impacts the health of the riparian area.

This region has been a focal area for many wetland restoration efforts. Since the 1970s, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) has installed wetland control structures throughout the area. Shortly after acquiring the property, NCC and DUC partnered to restore several historical wetlands on the property. These wetlands have since recovered, and today, 61 acres (25 hectares) of lentic (non-flowing) wetland systems occur on the property.

Two winters ago, volunteers helped remove the wire off the fence that once surrounded the old boundary of the wetland. The water has since come back so much that the fence is now under water.

The Brown property is a story of wetland success. Though wetlands and cattle don’t always mix, sometimes they can!

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Atlantic puffins (Photo by Bill Caulfield-Browne)