January 2011 signalled the public kick-off of the Southern Foothills Community Stewardship Initiative, a regional citizens' initiative to give voice to local priorities and recommendations for the landscape and watersheds of Alberta's southern foothills. The intent of the initiative is to inform land-use planning and stewardship processes at the municipal, regional and provincial levels — such as the Alberta Land-use Framework, the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, municipal development plans and regional conservation planning — to contribute to building the long-term, regenerative capacity of the landscape.
This is an important initiative, for the future of Alberta's southern foothills is at stake. The landmark Southern Foothills Study, organized by the Southern Alberta Land Trust and published in June 2007, describes current ecological health conditions, key trends and the cumulative impacts of human use in the region. Findings indicate that increased demand will mean reduced water quantity in the study area, and water quality will continue to degrade if current trends of human use and development continue. A written and telephone survey of area residents, completed as part of the study, indicated that watershed protection that ensures a high level of water quantity and quality was the primary concern of respondents.
The first round of community forums for the Southern Foothills Initiative were recently held in four rural communities—Turner Valley, High River, Nanton and Cowley. The forums attracted a diverse range of people—young and old, landowners and town residents, elected officials, and those living, working and playing up and down the watersheds. Forum participants actively engaged in dialogue to explore their values, issues and priorities for maintaining the health and integrity of the landscape. In support of the results of the 2007 Southern Foothills Study, water quality and quantity again emerged as a significant priority for local people across the region.
A second set of community forums, to be held in late February or early March, will allow citizens to participate in further discussions based on the results of the first forums. Following that, a clear statement of priorities and recommendations will be developed based on local input and current scientific studies to inform land-use plans, watershed management, and stewardship initiatives that affect local landowners and communities. The eight-month project, which began in November, 2010, will wind up in June 2011.
Water Matters is working with the Pekisko Group and the Chinook Institute for Community Stewardship to deliver the Southern Foothills Initiative, which focuses on the landscape and watersheds between Highway 22X and Highway 3, and west of Highway 2. This initiative aligns with and supports the Alberta Government's Land-use Framework as well as the goals and outcomes of Alberta's Water for Life Strategy.
Funding for the Southern Foothills Community Stewardship Initiative has generously been provided by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the Wilburforce Foundation, the Municipal District of Ranchlands and the Municipal District of Foothills.