Earlier this year, we shared that we were getting ready to pivot to Phase II of Project Blue Thumb (PBT) – a phase with more focus, broader engagement, and targeted action. Now the time has come to reveal more about the new strategic direction we’ll take to improve and maintain water quality in the Red Deer River Watershed.

PBT began knowing we needed to shift away from fixed, long-term planning to more iterative and adaptive planning based on learning and experimentation. Over the last year or so, we have been practicing this adaptive approach to action and developed six Action Pathways to focus our efforts. These (still draft) Action Pathways were officially announced at the Rally for the River on September 7th and 8th 2017.

The Action Pathways grew out of our previous work in Phase I of PBT: interviews with thought leaders from across Alberta about the future of our water system, and longstanding work led by the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance related to planning. We believe these pathways represent key leverage points for positive change in the Red Deer River Watershed.

We invite you to explore the pathways through the incredible graphic illustrations recorded by Julie Murray, and join us as we work to spark collaborative actions related to each pathway. We envision new research initiatives, “boots on the ground” projects, communications campaigns, and more – but to really make progress, we need people committed to action. If you want to learn more about how you can participate in PBT, or work with others on these action pathways, please contact Amy at a.spark@albertaecotrust.com. And, stay tuned as we announce more opportunities to get involved!

project blue thumb river rally red deer action pathways graphic illustration recording Julie Murray


Building Alberta Water Narratives

project blue thumb river rally red deer Alberta water narratives graphic illustrationIndividuals and institutions often make decisions based on existing modes of thought. For example, there is currently a focus on treating water instead of protecting it at the source, an idea that wetlands can be moved or replaced with little consequence, and the notion that some water is “waste”. All of these are narratives – not concrete truth. This pathway is about building effective messaging for freshwater protection and resilience, and taps into the power of storytelling to inspire change. Facts by themselves do not motivate action; instead stories that tap into people’s diverse values can move people up the literacy ladder and toward action (values to emotion to action). To move the dial on watershed protection, this pathway harnesses the power of values-based messaging and supports creative communications to influence heads, hearts, and policy.



Promoting Ecological Function

project blue thumb river rally red deer ecological function graphic illustration

This pathway supports and enhances critical hydrological connectivity and ecosystem function across the watershed. Ecosystems are just that – systems – that are built on interconnected relationships between water, land, and living beings. When the connectivity between landscape structures (such as wetland complexes, alluvial aquifers, fish spawning grounds, shorelines, and headwater streams) is disrupted, ecosystem function begins to break down. Through this pathway, we will develop a clear understanding of the presence and function of existing ecological infrastructure across the watershed, and use this knowledge to guide future growth patterns at the landscape level. This pathway also explores various ways of quantifying the value of ecosystem goods and services to influence decision-making.



Creating Municipalities of the Future

project blue thumb river rally red deer future municipalities graphic illustrationThis pathway is about next-generation municipal water systems and water management. What does the future hold for municipal drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems? How can urban and rural municipalities, as major land-use decision-makers, better work to protect local watersheds while protecting citizens from extreme weather events like drought and flood? Municipalities face a broad range of challenges: aging infrastructure, stretched resources, population and demographic changes, and climate change, among others. Yet municipalities also have many opportunities: grey and green infrastructure, land-use planning, water sharing agreements, regionalization of water systems, etc. This pathway focuses on building strong relationships with municipal partners to address priority issues ranging from source water protection to municipal capacity building.


Upholding Indigenous Voices

The Red Deer River watershed spans the ancestral territories of Treaty 6 and Treaty 7 First Nations, and the water flowing across these territories connects us all. This pathway supports initiatives in which Indigenous peoples are leading innovation about how to sustain land and water. It also champions the role of the First Nations in water co-management by including indigenous voices at key decision-making tables, aligning land-use planning with traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), and promoting a long-term view that supports future generations. We ask Indigenous communities how we can support their work, and coordinate Indigenous Awareness & TEK training for non-Indigenous people.


Strengthening Water Security

project blue thumb river rally red deer water security graphic illustrationIncreasing demand for water resources (across municipal, agricultural, and energy sectors) coupled with altered precipitation patterns through climate change, are putting pressure on regional water supplies. In a watershed that is water-secure, the needs of humans and the economy are met without compromising the needs and health of the ecosystem. This pathway strives to make the watershed water-secure, knowing this is possible only by recognizing our role within the wider water system. Opportunities to strengthen water security and reduce water stress are explored, such as water reuse, preserving key landscape features, water sharing agreements, and innovating new solutions.


Food Production of the Future

project blue thumb river rally red deer food of the future graphic illustration

Alberta is not unique in the fact that its cultural identity is linked with food (burgers on the grill, anyone?). However, Albertans do have a uniquely deep love of our land and big skies. This pathway explores how we can develop a food production system in central Alberta to ensure prime watershed and human health, aligning our actions to the love we have for our landscape. Many technologies and best practices exist to reduce the strains on water quality posed by the agricultural sector: digital soil mapping, precision fertilization, and riparian fencing as a few examples. This pathway engages with both the small- and large-scale food producer community to support riparian restoration, the efficient use of fertilizers and pesticides, erosion mitigation, and the avoidance of wetland draining.




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