Bow River Flows – How Are They Controlled

The Bow River fishery needs a constant supply of cold clean water to sustain its future as a world recognized “Blue Ribbon” trout river.

The management of water flows is controlled by the Province of Alberta within long standing agreements with TransAlta who control the hydro-electric dam infrastructure above Calgary, the City itself and the irrigation districts downstream. On a weekly basis each of these parties meet to establish the water release rates through the upstream storage capacity to meet demand for water and federal minimum flow legislation. Water will be released or held back within the Bow River Basin storage capacity to meet projected demand.TransAlta Res Storage

Historically the need for consistent Bow River flows gave rise to a very productive trout fishery, but in recent years, floods, droughts and modification to the Bow River water management protocol have given rise to extreme changes in flow rates. Often as much as 50% drop or increase in flows within a very short time period as illustrated in the following flow chart.

Calgary Flws Weel jul 14

Why have we seen these dramatic changes in river flow in recent years? Principally due to a modified Bow River Water Management Protocol that empties Ghost Reservoir upstream of Cochrane in May to aid in potential flood relief to the City of Calgary and once the city’s exposure to this threat is reduced the reservoir is returned to normal operation capacity by the middle of July.Ghost Res July 20

Equally important is the containment of  rapid changes in river flows below Ghost hydro-electric power plant where flows can either increase or decrease rapidly due to power demand. This is achieved by the cushioning effect of the Bearspaw Reservoir.

Cochrane Flows Week Jul14

Unfortunately there appears to be a breakdown of the operation of the water management protocol for the week of July 15, 2018 where the extreme changes in flow destroyed the fishing downstream of Calgary and may have impacted the survival of the fishery itself.

Bow River Trout Foundation has been documenting the modified water management protocol for some time with meeting planned with Alberta Environment & Parks at the end of July to discuss potential changes that will enhance the fishery. But because of what we had seen this week we approached TransAlta with our concerns. The following documents our request and the response. Today we have seen a return to a more normal consistent discharge from Bearspaw that we hope will continue.
To TransAlta:
The rapid drops and increase in Bow River flows we have seen this week as illustrated in the attached weekly flows at Calgary has destroyed the fishing and may well have long term impact on the future of the Bow River as a world class fishery.  There is also evidence to suggest that the survival of trout can be compromised by flow variations of the nature that we have seen this week. It appears that Bearspaw Reservoir water management protocol is unable to cushion the fluctuations in water discharge from power generation at Ghost Reservoir.There is need to correct this mismanagement of our water resource before we see further depletion to a very vulnerable trout population that has seen significant declines recently. We trust that TransAlta recognizes the urgency to make changes to the Bow River water management operation procedures as soon as possible to alleviate further damage to the fishery.

The Response:

Bow River water level fluctuations over the past days are a combination of several factors, including extra generation due to hot weather and additional water inflows into Ghost Reservoir.  This type of wide fluctuation is outside the norm. We have taken steps to manage and correct these unusually large fluctuations and expect water levels to return to more moderate levels in the next few hours. We will provide updates as necessary.

The State of the Bow River Fishery – Trout Populations may be in Decline

The Bow River is a world-renowned trout sports fishery that is under pressure from the human population growth in the region, ever-increasing demand for outdoor recreational pursuits, environmental changes and degradation of aquatic and riparian habitat.

Fishery managers have monitored the Bow River for more than 30 years, and in this time, it has been demonstrated that up until 2003 the fishery was sustainable with proper regulatory constraints. More recently though we have seen dramatic changes to the Bow River with devastating floods, low river flows in the warmest seasons, higher summer temperatures and now the presence of Whirling Disease.

A recent retrospective analysis of trout population data indicated that Bow River trout populations are in trouble. Data analysis showed that the Rainbow Trout populations may have declined by as much as 50% over a ten-year period from 2003 to 2013. This is a disturbing trend that needs immediate attention by all stakeholders involved.

The attached BowRiverFishPopulations Report documents the historical fish population surveys from 1980 to 2007 which at that time supported a sustainable fishery. The recent Rainbow Trout population analysis are also summarized.

Alberta Environment & Parks has started the engagement process with stakeholders to develop a policy to stop the decline in Bow River trout populations and hopefully see improvements in the future. The first step to a recovery program would be to establish a baseline fish population index that will guide fishery management policy change.

Bow River Trout Foundation is committed to this process and believes that the first step should be to conduct Bow River fish population monitoring on a regular basis that will give an index for the “The State of the Bow River Fishery”

The State of the Bow River Fishery

The Blue Ribbon Bow River needs your help. Your donation will assist BRT initiatives to monitor fish population dynamics and advocate for fishery management change.



Bow River Trout Foundation 2018 One Fly Tournament

After the success of the inaugural tournament in 2017 we would like to invite Mike Mumbyyou to participate in this years event. The 2018  One Fly Tournament will take place on Saturday, September 29, 2018. Anglers are invited to actively participate in the tournament, or enjoy a day on the river that will also support Bow River Trout Foundation’s initiatives to “Advocate and Support the Bow River Fishery”.

This year’s event will offer the following registrations:

Guided Trip – $600.00 will buy a fully guided boat for the day (up to 2 anglers).  Deposit $300.00 Buy Now Button

Self-Guided Trip – $300.00 will allow participation with a self-provided boat (up to 3 anglers) Deposit $150.00Buy Now Button

Full details are available at the following link BRT One Fly Tournament


 UPDATE May 02, 2018

Policeman’s Flats river access and boat ramp became an integral part of the Bow River fishery dating back some 30 years to when floating and fishing the Blue-Ribbon Bow became popular. The Government of Alberta developed a designated boat ramp at the site in the late nineties that received significant damage in the 2005 flood. The boat ramp and parking lot was redeveloped in 2008 but unfortunately was destroyed in the 2013 flood.

Bow River Trout’s position that is shared by other river use organizations, river guides, outfitters and the fishing community at large is that the current disposition of Policeman’s Flats is unacceptable as a safe boat launch and takeout point. Bow River Trout Foundation made the decision to fund short-term revitalization of the river access site with the support of the property owner Sherbrooke Investments Ltd and the fishing community.

The development

 Phase A: The proposal would see the removal of the rocks that interfere with boat access to and from the shore.  Habitat assessment protocols and instream permits application and temporary access agreements will see this work completed in April 2018. Total budget $ 11,500.

Work complete

Phase B: The parking and staging area will be contoured to facilitate better parking assignment. Removal of debris and a general clean-up of the site is needed on an ongoing basis.A seasonal amenities module comprising of toilets, benches and garbage containment is being considered. Work schedule, April 2018. Total budget $ 25,000

Earthwork Complete – no further closures

Signage, toilets and garbage bins to be added shortly

It is important to recognize that Policeman’s Flats is not public land but owned by Sherbrooke Investments Ltd who have graciously granted public access to the site. The river user community needs to recognize this commitment and support conservation of the site.



Policeman’s Flats April Revitalization

_DSC7109Plans are in place to remove the large rocks that impede safe access to Policeman’s Flats in April 2018. Bow River Trout Foundation has been instructed by the Provincial Government under the Water Act legislation to post the following Public Notice indicating that river access could be closed for up to 3 days between April 6 and April 30th.

Additional signs will be placed at Glenmore/Graves Bridge, Fish Creek and Policeman’s Flats boat ramps indicating when Policeman’s Flats will be closed. Five days notice of the closure will be given.

The instream work will be followed by a revitalization of the parking area.




Calgary River Access Strategy Delayed- Whats the Reason

On Wednesday February 28, 2018, Councillor Shane Keating asked City of Calgary Administration for an explanation as to why there appears to be delays with the Calgary River Access Strategy construction within the priority timelines of the approved budget. The response was shifting the blame for delays from the City of Calgary to the Alberta Government (AEP) and Canada’s Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO).

The response to Councillors Keating’s question was reported in the following CBC Article  Our belief is that the response from City Administration was not entirely accurate. To our knowledge AEP and DFO instream permit applications for West Baker Park, Inglewood and Ogden Road have not been submitted but discussions are ongoing to secure agreement for the appropriate permit applications.

West Baker Park  is close to development approval. The final concept drawings have only recently been completed. With this part of the consultation process now complete, Parks Department is hoping that permits will be in place to start the instream work in April 2019. Given the usual construction process, this would indicate that West Baker Park will not be open to trailered-boat access until 2020.

Both new river access developments at Inglewood and Ogden Bridge are not even close to the timeline development for West Baker Park. Consulting engineer services were approved for both sites in the early fall of 2017. Once the consultants were in place it became evident that a complete review of site dynamics were needed. This has delayed the engineering layout and would indicate the required permits will not be in place for upwards of 6 months to a year. Therefore, construction would not appear to be feasible until late 2019. Even being optimistic, 2020 trailered boat access to these two new sites will be difficult to accomplish.

The leadership by the City of Calgary  through the planning phase of the Calgary River Access Strategy was outstanding and exceeded both CRUA and Bow River Trout Foundation’s expectations. We appreciated the support and commitment from Calgary City Councillors to get it done. We were cautioned by those with knowledge of  the mandate that we should expect delays once the project moved from planning to implementation. This has happened and where we are at now.  Deflecting criticism onto provincial and federal authorities is not the answer. 

The end result, regardless of the blame  is that the fishing community will not see public trailered-boat access until 2020 unless changes in the delivery of the Calgary River Access Strategy are made. Harvie Passage will be open to the public in 3 months but will not be accessible by trailered river boats. There are possible short-term solutions to the river access issue for trailered boat access, the most logical being an easement of the Calgary Fire Departments policy of exclusive boat ramp access. West Baker Park has a double lane boat ramp that would suggest shared public and emergency service access is possible. Other city boat ramps are problematic for full public access, but with some creative thinking on the part of all stakeholders a solution is possible.


An Evening of Celebration and Success

A total of 170 guests attended the inaugural Bow River Trout Foundation – Blue Ribbon Bow Dinner at the Calgary  Petroleum Club. A combination of good food, an enjoyable and  informative presentation by Ross Purnell, Editor, Fly Fisherman Magazine reinforced the organization’s commitment to the Bow River fishery.

$20,000 was raised from the event that will support a number of important fishery related initiatives. The first of which will be a revitalization of Policeman’s Flats  boat ramp and river access parking.

 Future plans for the organization were presented by BRT President, Peter Crowe-Swords. The development of a program to investigate trout population and reproductive dynamics for the fishery and engagement  with both commercial and government interests to assure a sustainable fishery for future generations.