A century of landscape-level changes in the Bow watershed, Alberta, Canada, and implications for flood management




Taggart-Hodge, Tanya

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This study used a comparison of one hundred and forty-eight historical (1888-1913) and current (2008-2014) oblique photographs from thirty-two stations to identify land cover changes that have occurred in portions of the Bow and Elbow valleys as well as surrounding Kananaskis Country region. Implications of these changes for flooding and flood management were explored. Forest cover was found to have drastically increased over the past century, particularly in the Bow valley, as did areas of direct human development. In the same time period, grasslands increased in the Elbow valley but decreased in the Bow, while regenerating areas decreased uniformly throughout both valleys. An analysis of pre (2008)-and-post (2014) flood conditions demonstrated no change in coniferous forest cover in both valleys over the 6-year period, but uncovered a decline of 20% in the Elbow and 3% in the Bow in the broadleaf/mixedwood category. The Elbow’s channel zone was larger in 2014 compared to 2008, whereas the extent of the Bow’s channel zone remained constant. However, both the Bow and Elbow’s bare exposed bars increased substantially, most likely as a result of the 2013 flood. The major source of water flows that contributed to the 2013 flood event originated in high elevation rock and scree areas, which, unlike floodplains, are elements of the watershed that cannot be manipulated over time. It is now recognized that forest cover should act as a buffer to floods. Nevertheless, the 2013 flood event occurred despite the massive buffering effect of a huge increase in older forest stands across the study area. The final discussion includes recommendations for improving flood management in the area.



Mountains, Bow watershed, Canmore, Banff, Mountain Legacy Project, Repeat Photography, Land cover, Landscape, Rocky Mountains, Environmental sciences, Environmental studies, Change detection, Ecological restoration, Novel ecosystems, River, Human footprint