Bower Property 2 (Photo by Brent Calver)

Bower Property 2 (Photo by Brent Calver)

New project maps important areas for Red Deer River watershed health

September 14, 2021
Red Deer, Alberta


A new project led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in partnership with the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance (RDRWA) has mapped hydrologically significant areas in the Red Deer River watershed and created a user-friendly, online mapping tool to explore watershed features.

A watershed is an area of land that channels rainfall and snowmelt into one place, such as a river or an ocean. The Red Deer River watershed is vast and is home to more than 300,000 people, including the cities of Red Deer and Brooks.

Different landscapes across the Red Deer River watershed benefit the health of the land in different ways. When looking at the watershed from a large scale, it is important to identify the areas that provide natural benefits, such as purifying and regulating water flow.

The areas that provide these benefits are called hydrologically significant areas, or HSAs. They can inform land-use decision-making at a variety of scales, whether it is a municipal planner drafting a municipal plan or a land trust prioritizing potential projects.

Launched in 2019, this mapping project used open-source spatial data, which is accessible to everyone, to identify areas in the Red Deer River watershed that, if conserved, would benefit water quality, flood mitigation and drought resiliency. The project engaged stakeholders from various sectors, developed a new report, Prioritizing Hydrologically Significant Natural Assets, and developed an online map portal.

This mapping portal will be an important tool for land-use decisions, as approximately 30 per cent of the area mapped in the Red Deer River watershed is of moderate to high hydrological significance. These areas stretch across both pristine wilderness and working landscapes. Areas within Banff National Park were not assessed due to lack of available data.

The HSA conservation planning tool is a unique way to consider the importance of the impact of water at a watershed or local scale. It uses a straightforward step-by-step approach that is transparent and repeatable, allowing for future updates or expansion. Partners from across sectors are encouraged to use the maps generated through this project as a decision-support tool to inform conservation, municipal development, provincial land-use planning and stewardship activities.

For Josée Méthot, executive director of the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance, the project was an opportunity to develop a tool to help partners from across sectors. “This project has helped spur conversations about how to balance conservation and development to protect watershed health. We hope that people will use the online portal to think about the landscape and potential activities in the Red Deer River watershed through a water lens.”

“The Nature Conservancy of Canada is excited to provide public access to a tool that facilitates the visual prioritization of hydrologically significant areas,” said Suzanne Marechal, NCC’s acting manager of vonservation planning and spatial analysis. “Our hope is that the HSA tool will, effectively and adaptively, contribute to actions that address water quantity and quality challenges while simultaneously supporting human well-being and the benefits of biodiversity.”

This Red Deer River watershed HSA project was supported by key funders MEGlobal, the Land Stewardship Centre and Clark Builders. Preceding HSA work in the Bow River watershed was funded by the Land Stewardship Centre, Alberta NAWMP Partnership, Southern Alberta Land Trust Society, the Bow River Basin Council and Western Sky Land Trust.

Please visit the new interactive online portal to explore the Red Deer River watershed, hydrologically significant areas and other key features.

What is a hydrologically significant area?

The Prioritizing Hydrologically Significant Natural Assets report defines hydrologically significant areas as areas with natural assets that, if preserved in a natural state, provide beneficial hydrologic services, like water provision, flow regulation and water purification. An HSA is not a formal designation; instead, it is a term to help understand the importance of landscapes through the lens of water and aligns with watershed resilience thinking.

About the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance

The Red Deer River Watershed Alliance is a multi-sector, not-for-profit organization that works to promote the good use and proper management of water resources across the Red Deer River watershed in central Alberta. A designated Watershed Planning & Advisory Council under Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy, the RDRWA acts as a forum for information exchange and dialogue, and supports education, outreach and integrated planning related to key land use and water files with various sectors.

About the Nature Conservancy of Canada

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is Canada's leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect 14 million hectares (35 million acres), coast to coast to coast. To learn more, visit

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Media Contact:

Carys Richards
Communications Manager
Alberta Region
Mobile: (403) 669.2894

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