Pascal Badiou, researcher for Ducks Unlimited tells us about the value of wetlands

Pascal Badiou has a doctorate in Wetland Ecology from the University of Manitoba. He currently works for the Institute of Wetland and Waterfowl Research for Ducks Unlimited based out of Stonewall, Man.

Can you tell me what you know about Calgary and area wetlands?

I participated in The Ecosystem Services Approach Pilot on Wetlands which was a study that examined an area that covers approximately 274 square kilometres, encompassing parts of the City of Calgary, Rocky View County and the Town of Chestermere. Wetland area in the region has decreased by 24 per cent between 1962 and 2005. This translates into a total loss of 7.7 square kilometres of wetlands between 1962 and 2005. Landscape change and resulting wetland loss in the region and the case study area has been primarily driven by population growth and agricultural expansion. More recently, urban expansion has led to new changes on the landscape, including an increased percentage of impervious surfaces, storm-water pond creation and new micro-climactic conditions.

 What would we have to do to save the wetlands?

First and foremost protection is going to come down to having a good regulatory back stop. We need regulations in place to say, “Ok, we can’t lose any more wetlands. And if it’s absolutely necessary to impact a wetland or to drain a wetland for certain development, for example if you are constructing a highway and you have to go through a wetland, then there has to be appropriate mitigation.” Alberta has already gone down that path. There is wetland mitigation in Alberta. What is going to be important is to now start trying to avoid the unmitigated loss. Typically in the Canadian Prairies, most wetlands are lost on private land; it is private landowners who are draining wetlands, usually to increase agricultural production. In that case those aren’t mitigated. The government of Alberta mitigates wetland loss when it is associated with a project that it is involved in. But it is really on top of the unmitigated losses that are occurring on private land.

What are the current issues for wetlands in the Prairies?

We have suffered a tremendous amount of wetland loss over the last 40-60 years. We have lost about 486,000 hectares of wetlands in the Canadian Prairies. Those systems are really important in terms of habitat. They are important in terms of water storage and they are important in terms of providing filtering capacity and increasing quality at the watershed scale.Pascal Badiou, research scientist for the institute for wetland and waterfowl research for Ducks Unlimited, in the field.Photo courtesy of Pascal Badiou

How does this loss affect our usable water supply?

A lot of people on the Prairies, their drinking water is taken from surface water. So, if we are removing wetlands from the landscape we are removing that filtering capacity. As you are draining wetlands you are increasing the amount of nutrients and contaminants that are leaving the landscape, and often ending up in drinking-water supplies. One good example is, one of the city watersheds in south-western Manitoba, where we have seen a substantial amount of wetland loss over the last few decades, that flows directly into the town rivers drinking water reservoir.

That is the case for a lot of rural areas in Prairie Canada. They get their drinking water from local surface water and if you are draining wetlands in the watershed you are likely introducing more contaminants and more nutrients and creating water quality issues.

How does our water use affect the wetlands?

I don’t know if water use is dramatically affecting wetlands. We have seen equipment developed that people use to pump out wetlands to irrigate crops, so that’s not necessarily a good thing for wetlands if you are moving all of its water. It’s more how people manage surface water and in fact are trying to get surface water off their landscape that affects wetlands.

In order to try and minimize spring flooding, often what’s happened is, a lot of these wetlands are connected up and channelled to the local stream network so that they don’t catch water anymore, they don’t store water, in fact they aren’t functioning as wetlands because they don’t have the hydrology that is required to support the plant community, the insect community and the biological processes that usually occur in wetlands.