Pandemic or no pandemic, the mission of the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society (GWAS) remains vitally important.
The Ghost Watershed is a biologically rich headwaters ecosystem in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes that supplies abundant clean water maintained through stewardship and holistic management. Its importance stretches far beyond the immediate area into the greater Calgary region.
GWAS executive director Marina Krainer says they have numerous educational and science-based projects on the go.
GWAS is looking to further expand its education and outreach programs, and Sharlene Fritz is their education and outreach coordinator.
"We are working on ramping up our education and outreach program even more and trying to do more, especially with recreational users," says Krainer.
That includes hands-on instruction for no-trace camping and off-highway vehicle trips through the area.
It's also is a chance to provide information on bull trout and cutthroat trout, both protected by Canada's Species as Risk Act.
GWAS has adjusted its popular watershed tours to meet Alberta Health Services requirements.
"Last year, we switched those school field trips to taking families out in smaller groups and showing them a little bit of the watershed, giving the kids the hands-on experience."
"With the crowd limit on gatherings to up to 10 people, it's still something we can do. Of course, we always ask people to bring masks along in case we're showing them something that would draw us closer together physically. People have been really good about that."
GWAS has introduced virtual tours of the Ghost last year and offers both slideshow and videos on their website.
Last year, GWAS prepared a video for the Calgary Mayor's Environment Expo. It provides a tour of the watershed and explains its connection to ensuring safe drinking water for Calgarians.
They're preparing a new video for this year's expo.
Wildfire in the Ghost is not only a major concern for stakeholders like Spray Lake Sawmills and Alberta Environment and Parks but the City of Calgary.
"We know that they are very concerned about the potential for wildfire because the runoff from a burned-off area may be something they can't treat for drinking water purposes."
"We have a really great working relationship with the City of Calgary and other groups, like the Elbow River Watershed Partnership and the Alberta Society for Environmental Education."
The health of the watershed is a top priority, and GWAS has established a water monitoring program they hope to continue for at least three years. Lab testing is expensive and has been made possible with a grant from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
"Because it is a critical habit for those threatened fish species, it's very important to see how their food source is doing. When we have a good idea about what kind of invertebrates are there, we also get a good idea about the general health of the watershed. Some species are very pollutant resistant, and then some are very sensitive. The very sensitive ones are the best food for fish."
Conducting cleanups was nearly impossible through the pandemic in 2020. The BP retirees group has annually removed literally tons of waste from popular random camping spots on Ghost public land. They had to cancel last year, but one was undertaken by the Alberta chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA).
Krainer says they are hoping to have at least two cleanups this year; one by BHA in August, the other with the BP retirees in September.
GWAS was incorporated in 2002 with three main goals of safe, secure drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.