Riparian areas in Calgary
Calgarians care about our river areas – 83% say these spaces are important to them personally. Whether you live, work or play in Calgary, you depend on healthy river areas to support clean drinking water, resilience to flood and drought, plant and animal life, recreational opportunities and experiences of nature in the city.
Calgarians also care that The City of Calgary has a plan to preserve and protect our river areas. The 2013 Riparian Strategy outlined a high level framework with a vision, principles, and strategies for protecting our river areas. This has been followed up with a more detailed plan, called the Riparian Action Program (RAP). Check out the Healthy Rivers Story Map to learn all about Calgary’s watersheds, rivers, riparian areas, and restoration and management actions. Related events and volunteer activities are also listed here.
Take a staycation this summer and discover your local rivers and creeks. Download the YYCRivers Activity Booklet to help guide your adventure.
The RAP document is intended to be used by planners, engineers, practitioners and watershed stewards within The Corporation and the community for direction and ideas on how to protect and restore riparian landscapes in Calgary. It is intended to help practitioners and citizens actively engage and align their work across Calgary’s watersheds. Scroll down to find related information, including maps, guidelines and tools, relevant policy documents and information about monitoring.
The Riparian Areas Mapping Project Report (2013), provides background technical information on the process for mapping riparian areas along major rivers and streams in Calgary. These techniques were used to produce the following map booklets:
- Bow River riparian area maps
- Elbow River riparian area maps
- Nose Creek and West Nose Creek riparian area maps
- Twelve Mile Coulee, Coach Creek, Confederation Creek, Forest Lawn Creek, Radio Tower Creek and Pine Creek riparian area maps
- The Open Data Catalogue also includes:
Guidelines and Tools for Project Managers
Riparian Decision Matrix for River Engineering Projects. The following matrix is intended as a decision support tool for City of Calgary projects involving bank stabilization, restoration and/or river engineering. Project engineers and consultants involved with these projects are currently being directed to use this matrix in project management, design, administration and construction. The purpose of the matrix is to ensure bioengineering practices are applied to the maximum extent possible within Calgary.
- A set of Riparian Management Category Maps, provide a cohesive geospatial "vision" for the protection, management and use of riparian areas in Calgary, and are related to the Riparian Decision Matrix for River Engineering Projects (see page 49 of the Riparian Action Program).
- Design Guidelines for Erosion and Flood Control for Streambank and Riparian Stability
- Calgary’s Source Water Protection Policy ensures we integrate and embed watershed protection into land use decisions within Calgary and the broader region. The Riparian Action Program is one of the foundational plans supporting this policy.
- Calgary's Municipal Development Plan includes a guiding mandate to conserve and restore the natural environment, including riparian green infrastructure.
- Our BiodiverCity is Calgary’s 10-year strategic plan for fostering resilient, biologically diverse open spaces and neighbourhoods.
- Calgary’s Environmental Reserve (ER) Setback Policy and Guideline sare based on the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and are variable widths based on a number of factors, including waterbody type, slope, vegetation cover and local groundwater influence
- Calgary Wetland Conservation Policy provides procedures for the protection of our priority urban wetlands.
Monitoring our Performance
The methodology used by The City to assess riparian health is the Riparian Health Inventory (RHI) methodology. For stream and small river systems, RHI scores are derived from an evaluation of 11 key vegetation and soil/hydrology health parameters assessed in the field. For large rivers like the Bow River, RHI scores are based on an evaluation of eight of these parameters in addition to seven others related to tree cover and hydrology (see figure below). The parameters assessed are largely based on visual estimates made in the field by trained observers, supplemented by measurements. The riparian health scores (ratings) are expressed both as a percentage score and in terms of one of three health categories: Healthy, Healthy with Problems and Unhealthy.
2015 baseline average riparian health score
As of 2018, The City has conducted RHIs on 143 sites. Of this, 101 sites were inventoried from 2007-2010 and a sub-set (57) were revisited in 2014-2015 representing over 368 hectares of riparian habitat. RHI scores for these 57 sites were used to inform the riparian health baseline conditions and targets included in the Riparian Action Program. An average riparian health index score was calculated for these 57 sites. This assessment provided a City-wide baseline average score of 64% in 2015 as shown in the figure below. The figure below also shows a 2026 average riparian health score target of 72%.
Measuring riparian health over time
In 2017 The City initiated a 5-yr Riparian Monitoring Program (RMP) to better understand long-term riparian health trends. A key objective of the RMP is to monitor progress toward meeting the Riparian Action Program target of 72%. This will entail ongoing monitoring of benchmark RHI monitoring sites established since 2007 and conducting new RHIs in areas that represent “gap” areas not previously assessed. Another objective is to evaluate the effectiveness of bioengineering and riparian planting practices.
Results from the 2018 Riparian Monitoring Program are now available in a Summary of Recommendations fact sheet.