Intro to My Watershed: Gulf of Mexico, by Tim Romanow

When someone says the Gulf of Mexico or the Mississippi Watershed likely the last place in the world you think of is Southeastern Alberta or Southwestern Saskatchewan but the reality is we do have some of the northern most tributaries of this incredible Watershed right here in Canada!

My name is Tim Romanow; I am the Executive Director for the Milk River Watershed Council Canada, a Watershed Planning and Advisory Council (WPAC) in Southern Alberta. The Milk River watershed is an incredible watershed located in the most southern part of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and North Central Montana USA. It is unique, known not just for its dry climate, extraordinary landscapes and diverse plant and wildlife communities but also for the direction in which the Milk River flows. The Milk River is the only watershed in Canada that drains south to the Gulf of Mexico. The mainstem Milk River rises in the grasslands of Montana and flows northward into Alberta before flowing eastward a distance of about 288 km parallel to the Canada-United States border. The river then flows south and returns to Montana where it flows through Fresno Reservoir and continues to flow southeast a distance of 710 km before joining the Missouri River.

Water shortages are not uncommon in the Milk River watershed. As the problem of water scarcity continues to grow, proper water and watershed management is critical. The Watershed has a rich and colorful history. Cretaceous period dinosaur bones are found in the Milk River valley. A new species was recently found in 2008, Acrotholus audeti, named after a local rancher. The Watershed is an important traditional and contemporary region for First Nations. A common hunting and harvesting area, important for the seasonal round. Vision quests, trade and commerce have all taken place and continue in some instances. The watershed is homeland for the Blackfeet in Montana, the Cree in Saskatchewan and Montana, and is part of the traditional lands for the Blackfoot, Blood and North Peigan in Alberta.
The Watershed includes Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park a local gem, on the tentative List for World Heritage Site designation and is considered a place of spiritual significance. With the awe inspiring pictographs and petroyglyphs, “Áísínai’pi” continues to give spiritual direction to the Blackfoot People.
The Northwest Mounted Police established posts at Writing-on-Stone and Pendant d’Oreille, Alberta, in 1887. The Milk River watershed was travelled and accounts were recorded by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Palliser Expedition. The flags of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Canadian Red Ensign and six governments (France, Spanish Empire, French Republic, United States, British Empire and Canada) have flown in the watershed in Alberta, coining the term “Under Eight Flags”; one of the last western frontiers settled by whiskey and fur traders, and many civil war veterans remained in Montana.

Many determined European settlers homesteaded here, and many of their families continue to make a living in the watershed today and are the stewards of large tracts of un-fragmented native rangeland found throughout the watershed. These grasslands now form the foundation of the local communities and support the local economy. The watershed supports about 80% of Alberta’s species-at-risk and is the most important landscape for prairie species-at-risk in Canada. Many of these species are at the northern limit of their North American distribution. Unique vegetation including prairie grasses, Western Blue Flag (Iris missouriensis) and Soapweed (Yucca glauca) are found in the watershed.
For just over two year now I have had the opportunity to take the reins and lead the MRWCC towards our goal to achieve balance among a thriving community, a healthy environment and a prosperous economy through understanding, dialogue and action. The more involved with the council that I became, the more I realized that our role is really to help facilitate the process to proactively preserve and improve the economic, social, and environmental interests of the basin through effective partnerships and sound science.

And I believe we are getting closer to a realization of our goals every day. Exciting projects like the Transboundary State of the Watershed report, and Fecal Source Tracking projects are bridging the gaps in knowledge within both the scientific community and our local residents. We better understand concerns on both sides of the border, and have created new networks of people working together to better our watershed.

There are new and emerging challenges within our watershed we need to learn more about and address. There are concerns regarding groundwater and the increase in oil and gas activity in the watershed. We recognize that we have limited and unique aquifers that support our communities, individual farms, water coops, and we need to continue to explore means of understanding groundwater dynamics as well as promote industry best management practices that reduce the potential of problems with drilling practices.

The MRWCC will continue to provide sound science based research, and monitoring to help ensure the health of the Milk River Watershed and in part support the greater Gulf of Mexico watershed. As well as support our community in stewardship efforts and deliver guidance for sustainable watershed management. The MRWCC is a non-profit and charitable society mandated to provide a forum where people meet to share information and to identify, discuss, and recommend priorities for issues and initiatives in the Milk River watershed. Please visit our website www.milkriverwatershedcouncil.ca to find out more about our work.

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