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Watershed Groups and the Chaffen Creek Initiative | Alberta, Canada

Conservation Action
2013 Flood - our timid little creek turned into a vicious roiling torrent! We had between 12 and 18 inches (depending on the rain gauge used) of rain fall in a 12 hour period! Refer to image #1 to compare similar view. – Deb Webster

What Can Be Done

Streams, wildlife and native plant communities don't recognize property lines and jurisdictional boundaries. Recognizing this basic law of nature, watershed groups are being organized throughout the Crown of the Continent region. These groups typically represent private landowners, conservationists, recreationists, and public land managers who work together to restore water quality, fisheries, and wildlife habitat. They combat invasive weeds, educate user groups, conserve water, and strive to maintain working ranches and forests in the face of growing pressure to fragment working landscapes for rural subdivisions and residential acreages.

While each watershed group pursues objectives and challenges specific to its place, a good example of such a stewardship initiative is the Chaffen Creek Watershed Group. Chaffen Creek originates primarily in the Livingstone Range located from the Chaffen Ridge (7200ft) and Horseshoe Ridge (7000ft) and towards the Porcupine Hills, Honey Coulee (5500ft) and Minor Coulee (4800ft). From the West, Riley Creek, Owl Creek, Hunter Creek and Beagle Creek flow into Chaffen Creek. The East side issues Ward and Raspberry Creeks with Hawkeye Creek joining Nelson Creek further south which ultimately flows into Chaffen Creek. Several unnamed creeks/springs feed this watershed and are seasonally adjusted. This meandering creek follows Chimney Rock Road eastward to Highway #22 where it crosses and joins with South Fork Willow Creek.

History: Chaffen Creek was once known as the South Fork Willow Creek. Whaleback Ridge was originally known as Porter Ridge and Breeding Valley is named after the homesteader, William Patterson Breeding who attempted to settle here in 1910 with his wife and family. It was common practice for creeks and coulees to be named after the homesteaders and some liberties have been taken with spellings over the years as in Chaffin (Chaffen) and Rosbury (Raspberry) and Ropio (Ropeo . . . corrected from Rodeo), while other names have come through reasonably unscathed: Nelson, Riley, Honey, etc. or were just eliminated altogether: Porter.

There are 4 full-time residents along West Chaffen Creek with 2 other families living south along Nelson Creek. The land along this system provides grazing for 13 ranching operations and miscellaneous grazing leases on Crown Land with very limited farming use. Other influences impacting this segment of the creek system are hiking trails at the north end of the Whaleback Ridge (hikers must cross the creek to access the Whaleback) and a variety of other recreationalists (Random Campers, hikers, OHVs, etc.) in the Porcupine Hills.

Watershed Activities: Off-site watering systems are provided on the Webster Ranch for their cattle with windmill and solar powered pumps utilized at the dugout and lake. Weight gain for the calves have been significant as the cows provide a cleaner 'dinner table' and they don't have to struggle through muck to get a fresh drink of water. A section of our creek has been fenced and operates as a riparian pasture (approximately 80 acres) to provide grazing later in the fall after the banks have hardened and the livestock traffic cannot cause excessive injury to the shoreline. During a drought, this method offers another option for watering as we are able to visually monitor the area for signs of distress. These locations are available as demonstration sites and have been included on various agricultural tours.

We have seen increased interest in our riparian and grazing methods by the guests visiting our bed and breakfast. Care and concern has been expressed about our environment and our guests appreciate the stewardship efforts we have taken in this regard.

Join us for a riparian session to walk the creek and identify the components of a healthy mountain stream. This is an interpretive hike to introduce the critters in and around the water, learn about the plant life along the creek banks and we'll show you how to test the water for turbidity, oxygen (important for fish), temperature, etc. Contact us to coordinate your tour and creek walk.

News and Background Links

Chaffen Creek does experience flood and drought conditions - anecdotal records since 1946 show 1988 was completely dry with severe drought periods averaging cyclically every 3 to 4 years and over a dozen or more floods since 1953. These floods typically exhibit a rise in excess of 10 feet (the Webster Bridge having been replaced over 4 times). The most severe damage has been created as bridges are replaced by larger culverts - the sudden rise in water levels generate so much energy that the creek banks downstream were severely eroded or the culvert is literally "sucked out" of the ground as was the Webster crossing in 1995! During the flood of 2005, bridges replaced by culverts (as these typically shallow streams are considered "navigable") caused several types of damages; driving water washing out a residential bridge downstream while other locations where water flow was restricted to such an extent that the water flowed along roadways until reaching an intersection or obstruction and washing across the road taking soil, gravel and/or pavement with it and yet another couldn't handle the volume of water that was to be directed under a road, ultimately eroding the road completely.

The notorious flood of June 2013 was followed promptly by another flood in 2014 which compromised many roads and bridges in SW Alberta. It has been identified as the most expensive natural disaster in Canada this year! Communities are still reeling from the damage with downtown High River starting to see the promise of rejuvenated business returning. The ground remains saturated and this increased moisture has likely contributed to our higher than usual snowfall this season.

We have controlled access of our cattle/horses with off-site watering systems at dugouts. Beaver dams are prolific, coyote, weasel, gophers, deer, (whitetail/mule deer), elk, bear (black/grizzly), wolf, cougar are examples of the game using this watershed system with birds (ducks, geese, swans, cranes) utilizing the creeks for drinking, as a food source and to cool-down during periods of extreme heat (this includes general frolicking of both 2-legged and 4-legged critters!). The fish population continues to thrive with recent efforts to manage people/cattle access and grazing patterns. This has stabilized the creek bank, which improves bird and wildlife habitat conditions.

Proud to be a partner of the Oldman River Watershed Council