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Riparian areas in Calgary

Preserving and protecting our river areas.

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.

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.

Maps


Man out in a lake fishing near Calgary Alberta.

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:

Resources


Activity Book

Cover of Riparian activity book

Take a staycation this summer and discover your local rivers and creeks. Download the YYCRivers Activity Booklet to help guide your adventure.

Healthy Rivers

Learn more about Calgary's rivers, riparian areas and watershed protection through the Health Rivers Map.

Riparian Action Program (RAP) Report

A detailed plan on how we plan to preserve and protect our river areas.

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.

Riparian Management Zone Hard Engineering Bioengineering/Soft Engineering Example Sites*

Flood and erosion control zones

Permitted

As necessary

Preferred
Must be evaluated during design

Momorial + 19th St. 
Alyth Yard Bridge
MacDonald Bridge
Elbow Rail Bridge

Conservation zones

Prohibited

Required
Designs should minimize environmental impacts

Discovery Ridge
Parkdale

Restoration zones

Discretionary
Highly discouraged

Preferred
Must be evaluated during design

Douglasdale
South Highfield

Recreation zones

Discretionary
Highly discouraged

Required
Designs should minimize environmental impacts

Lindsay Park
Inglewood Golf Course

*Contact City of Calgary Water Resources for more information about example sites and locations.

Policy


  • 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


Riparian Health

The methodology used by The City to assess riparian health is the Riparian Health Inventory (RHI) methodology developed by the Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society (Cows and Fish). 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.

Health caetgory Score range Description

Healthy

80-100%

Little to no impairment to any riparian functions

Healthy, but with problems

60-79%

Some impairment to riparian functions due to human or natural causes

Unhealthy

>60%

Severe impairment to riparian functions due to human or natural causes

Riparian health parameter assessed Sub parameter assessed Streams and small rivers Large rivers

Vegetation

Vegetation cover

Yes

Cottonwood and poplar regeneration

Yes

Regeneration of other tree species

Yes

Preferred shrub regeneration

Yes

Preferred tree/shrub regeneration

Yes

Preferred tree/shrub utilisation and woody vegetation removal by other than browsing

Yes

Yes

Dead/decadent woody material

Yes

Yes

Total canopy cover of woody plants

Yes

Invasive plants

Yes

Yes

Disturbance plants

Yes

Yes

Physical

Root mass protection

Yes

Yes

Human-caused alteration to banks

Yes

Yes

Human-caused bare ground

Yes

Yes

Human-caused alteration to rest of site

Yes

Yes

Floodplain accessibility

Yes

Channel incisement

Yes

Removal or addition of water from/to river system

Yes

Control of flood peak and timing by upstream dam

Yes

2026 riparian health target

The City has committed to conserving and improving the ecological health of riparian areas in Calgary as outlined in the Riparian Strategy and Riparian Action Program. The City’s Riparian Action Program sets a 2026 riparian health target of a city-wide average riparian health score 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 entails ongoing monitoring of benchmark RHI monitoring sites established since 2007 and conducting new RHIs in areas that represent “gap” areas not previously assessed. Another key objective is to evaluate the effectiveness of bioengineering and riparian planting practices. The RMP Phase 1 was completed in 2018 and consisted of the development of the Monitoring Plan.  Phase 2 was undertaken from 2018 to 2022 as part of a 5-yr monitoring program to implement the monitoring plan.

The RMP Phase 2 Final Program Report is now available. The purpose of this report is to summarize key results, successes, areas for improvement and recommendations that were documented during Phase 2 of the RMP. Please contact norma.posada@calgary.ca for additional information.

Stormwater pond

2023 City-Wide and Waterbody Riparian Health Score

101 sites; 84 km of bank length; 590.5 ha

From 2014 onward and after the completion of Phase 2 of the RMP in 2022, the riparian health trend monitoring program expanded from 58 sites to 101 sites city-wide, resulting in a city-wide riparian health score of 69%. Baseline is 61% based on the original 58 sites. The figure below shows the riparian health score at the city-wide level and by waterbody after the completion of the RMP Phase 2. 

The Bioengineering Demonstration and Education Project (BDEP)

In 2013 Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) and The City partnered to undertake the Bioengineering Demonstration and Education Project (BDEP) through AEP’s Southern Alberta Fisheries Habitat Enhancement and Sustainability (FISHES) Program. The BDEP includes 680 m of the right bank of the Bow River in the community of Inglewood in Calgary and is between Pearce Estate Park and the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

After the BDEP was built in 2019, The City initiated monitoring work at the site as part of the overall Riparian Monitoring Program (RMP). Several bioengineering techniques are currently being monitored as part of a 10-yr monitoring plan to show how bioengineering techniques used in the project are improving fish habitat, wildlife habitat, riparian health and structural integrity.

The BDEP is providing valuable data to support the use of bioengineering techniques as effective and ecologically valuable alternatives to hard engineering practices for bank erosion protection.

Get more information about the BDEP.

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