Parts of the Watershed

The Battle Watershed is composed of many parts, including surface water (rivers, creeks, lakes and wetlands), riparian areas, uplands, and groundwater.

The Battle River System

The Battle River extends 800km from Battle Lake to the Saskatchewan Border. It joins the North Saskatchewan River in Battleford, Saskatchewan (see map).

Unlike most of Alberta’s major rivers, the Battle River is not glacier-fed. Its water supply comes entirely from local rain and snow run-off (for this reason the Battle River is often referred to as a prairie-fed river). This means the Battle River’s natural water flows are much lower than that of glacier-fed rivers such as the North Saskatchewan River. Learn about the history of the Battle River System.

Natural water flow in the Battle River also changes dramatically with season. In the spring flow is high as the snow pack melts. But river flow may be reduced to a trickle in hot summers when there is little rain, or in cold winters when there is little snowmelt. Learn more about how climate affects flows in the Battle River

The Battle River has many tributaries that feed into it, such as Pipestone, Iron, Paintearth, Ribstone, & Pigeon Lake Creeks (see map).

The Battle River together with its tributaries and riparian vegetation is referred to as the Battle River System.

Learn about the components of a river ecosystem.

Lakes and Wetlands

Pigeon Lake and Battle Lake are the only natural deep-water lakes in the Battle Watershed. There are many shallow prairie lakes in the watershed, such as Samson Lake and Wavy Lake. Some of these lakes naturally dry up during drought years.

A wetland is an area of land that is saturated with water for all or part of the year. A wetland can be a marsh, slough, muskeg, pond or pothole. Wetlands are typically surrounded by riparian vegetation.

Wetlands are like giant sponges. They store water collected during wet periods, reduce flooding, filter out pollutants, diseases and nutrients, and slowly release the water into groundwater and/or rivers, creeks and lakes during drier periods. See how a wetland works.

Wetlands also influence local weather: more wetlands = more precipitation.

In addition, wetlands provide forage for livestock and habitat for wildlife. Healthy wetlands naturally attract wildlife.

Download an online brochure about Alberta’s wetlands.

Riparian (waterside) Vegetation

The plants that grow along or near the riverbanks, lakes and wetlands are called riparian vegetation. Natural riparian vegetation in the Battle Watershed includes plants such as aspen, balsam poplar, dogwood, willow, chokecherry and cattails. Riparian vegetation is important for a number of reasons:

  • The roots of riparian plants stabilize stream banks, and prevent erosion and silting-in of river channels.
  • Spongy soils in riparian areas slow and store water, reducing flooding and later releasing water to aquifers and streams.
  • The roots and stems of riparian vegetation are filters that absorb and trap nutrients, diseases and pollutants, thereby improving water quality.
  • Riparian vegetation provides important habitat for aquatic insects, fish and wildlife.
  • Riparian vegetation develops productive soils and provides shelter and high quality forage for livestock.

To learn more about the importance of riparian areas, click here to download the Cows and Fish publication "Caring for the Green Zone."

Uplands

The uplands of a watershed are areas where there is not usually standing water. Under natural conditions, aspen woodlands and fescue grassland would cover the Battle Watershed’s uplands. Most of these upland areas have now been modified for agriculture and other human uses.

Together with its uplands, the Battle Watershed is part of the Parkland Natural Region one of the richest, most biologically diverse landscapes in Canada.

Groundwater

Groundwater is the water that fills the cracks and spaces between soil particles, sand grains and rock. Each drop of rain that soaks into the soil moves downward to fill these spaces and gaps, thereby becoming groundwater stored in the soil and rock. Imagine a bucket filled with pebbles, then filled with water. The pebbles represent soil particles. The water between the pebbles is the groundwater.

Many people believe that groundwater comes from fast flowing underground rivers and lakes. This is not true.

When there are many interconnected cracks and spaces between soil particles and/or rock, we can easily pump out the groundwater. We call these zones aquifers. Sometimes aquifers can be easily mapped and predicted by geologists and drillers, but sometimes not. Imagine the bucket filled with water and pebbles. Push a straw deep into the pebbles and suck – the bigger the pebbles (and therefore the spaces between them) the easier it is to suck water out through the straw.

Groundwater is always naturally in motion. Recharge areas are places where surface water soaks (infiltrates) into the soil, thereby becoming groundwater. Discharge areas are places where groundwater seeps or flows into surface water (e.g. springs). Groundwater flow is part of the natural water cycle.

Pumping groundwater sucks groundwater out of the spaces between rocks and/or soil particles (i.e. out of storage). As water is pumped out of an area, ground and surface water from other areas (eg. neighbouring soils, wetlands, rivers) is slowly sucked in to fill the drained spaces in the rock and soil. Once again, imagine the bucket of pebbles filled with water. Put a bowl with a hole in the bottom on top of the pebbles. Fill it with water. This represents a lake or wetland. Then push a straw deep into the pebbles and suck. Watch the water in the bowl eventually drain away.

But because groundwater systems change very slowly, the effects of pumping can often take years to decades to observe. But in other cases it may only take days to months. It all depends on the geology.

Because there is so much water moving in the water cycle as precipitation, runoff, infiltration, evaporation, river flow, etc., it can be very difficult to measure the impact of pumping on water tables, surface-water levels, etc.

This page is based on information provided by Kevin Parks with Alberta Geological Survey (http://www.ags.gov.ab.ca/)

 

Rolling Down the River EventWolf Creek WMP Meeting