Mowing public grassland behind riverside homes in the Bow Meadows area is not as straight forward a question as first thought by town councillors.
Town administration is opposed to the idea of destroying flood mitigation efforts in the area behind some Bow Meadow homes by reversing a 2015 decision to cease mowing the area. When push came to shove they also question exactly who would be liable for the change in maintenance level of mowing resumes, given the fact the area is historically proven to be prone to flooding.
During its late September meeting, councillors were leaning towards resuming mowing in the high elevations of the area and will be once again be delving into the issue after receiving further information. Many councillors had walked the area and saw no harm in mowing.
Tonight, Oct. 9, they are receiving a presentation from the Cochrane Environmental Action Committee (CEAC), who have planted about 10,000 trees and shrubs in the area over the years so to allow the riparian to function properly.
The discussion of council initially focused on costs related to changing the maintenance schedule for the area. The idea of a more relaxed mowing schedule and other compromises on the area mowed kicked off their discussions size, but it shifted to one centred upon larger questions of flood mitigation and financial liability.
Discussions have evolved since Councillor Morgan Nagel brought forward a notice of motion earlier this fall to consider reverting the southern portion of the environmental reserve to a ‘C’ class maintenance standard that calls for regular mowing. He saw it as a way to strike a compromise between Bow Meadows residents and the town’s flood mitigation strategy by leaving the lower portion left to grow naturally while maintaining the higher ground.
The problem is the area is prone to flood events and both history and flood mapping confirm this. Following floods of 2005 and 2008, twice the town parks infrastructure in the area was wiped out, then replaced. It also flooded in 2013 and afterwards, the town examined how the area should be managed to help protect homes and property from future flood events.
According to 2008 provincial government flood mapping, all properties backing on to the Bow Meadow floodway are within the flood fringe and a number of homes on the east side have backyards within the actual floodway.
In 2015, Parks and Open Spaces began the process of reclaiming the floodway dividing Bow Meadows Dr. and the Bow River. All major mowing activity ceased and tree and shrub planting began in earnest to implement a proven flood mitigation method.
What’s been labelled the “Fields of Forest” initiative is now taking root.
“The area is beginning to show signs of transition with Balsam, Poplar, Wolf Willow and other native species taking hold,” states a report provided to council by Parks and Open Spaces. “These species have a root system that is commonly referred to as a “rebar” system that provides natural support to banks reducing the likelihood of loss and damage.”
Parks and Open Spaces acknowledges there are some small areas along the Bow River fllodway through town that continue to be mowed. They are making plans fo naturalize of these areas.
Former Mayor Judy Stewart will be speaking on behalf of CEAS tonight and is well versed in the history of how the mowing began and is concerned about the damage it causes to the riparian. She believes it is important for council to understand the role of a healthy riparian.
“It’s finally having a chance because nobody is going in and mowing it. Every time you mow grasses in a riparian area you threaten the root structure and make it less resilient and able to absorb water during runoff events or flood events and you also undermine its important function to store water, then slowly release it in summer and fall.
“It’s an absolutely insane thing to say we want to go in there and mow these areas for a few people who live in Bow Meadows when this land, this environmental reserve, is owned by the town for the benefit of everyone and for the rivers themselves.”
While we do tend to focus on flood events, we cannot discount the possibility of a future drought, she points out.
“A big drought is coming and one of the best ways to mitigate against drought is to protect your riparian landscape and that is a known fact from around the world. When you destroy the natural riparian areas next to your rivers and streams and wetlands, you’re destroying your potential sustainability in the long haul. Everyone knows this, all the scientists know this, yet we continue to destroy these very features that are going to save us.”
"Nature doesn't put up with a lot of crap."