Kerrie Hale’s backyard is an urban getaway, but that tranquility turned to chaos in June 2013 when the Elbow River swept through her home.
“The furniture had been floating around. There was silt all over everything,” Hale said. “We had sand dunes.”
Now, Calgary River Valleys is sprucing up the area. On Oct. 6, volunteers planted a variety of native species on Hale’s property. The plants are all well-adapted to the moist riparian zone along the riverbank. It’s part of a “river makeover” project that organizers hope will bring the riverbanks back to their natural state.
“It helps to stabilize the bank so it’s good for the homeowner and it’s good for the environment,” said Anne Naumann, an administrator with Calgary River Valleys. She said many of the lots along the Elbow River lost portions of land to the force of nature in 2013.
“Where there was just lawn like Kentucky bluegrass planted, at times, that just got washed away,” Naumann said. “It’s such short-rooted vegetation that the water just undercut the bank and took away the sod.”
After the flood, an arrangement of loose stones called riprap was placed along sections of Calgary’s riverbanks. Naumann said that doesn’t create a healthy riparian zone.
“Riprap really does one function and that’s preventing erosion of the bank,” she said.
“It was a stopgap measure as in, ‘let’s do something to prevent further erosion’ and that was an important thing to do,” Naumann added. “But they also need to backfill that now with vegetation to help stabilize the bank under those boulders and provide the rest of the filtration function that the riparian zone does have.”
The vegetation that has been planted along Hale’s property not only helps prevent erosion with it’s deep-rooted plants, but creates wildlife habitats and acts as a filter to protect water quality. Hale hopes other homeowners along the Elbow River follow the lead of this project.
“I was thrilled to be asked,” Hale said. “I think everybody who lives on the river loves the river and wants to do what they can to take care of it.”
Calgary River Valleys is hoping to expand their makeover project to properties along the Elbow River that were bought out by the province and are sitting vacant.
The non-profit group will be holding a tour of the river on Oct. 20 from 1:00-3:30 p.m. Further information about can be found on the group’s website.