Thursday 31 December 2015

Reimagining Saskatoon: Towards Sustainability 2015

“overcoming our carbon dependence should be seen as an opportunity to rethink for the better an institution largely shaped by and for fossil fuel: our cities 

Here are a few of the initiatives undertaken by Saskatoon residents and organizations in 2015 to help make Saskatoon a more sustainable city.


Tuesday 29 December 2015

EcoSask News, December 29, 2015

looking up

“The more often we see the things around us - even the beautiful and wonderful things - the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds - even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.” Joseph B. Wirthlin

Upcoming Events
Winter Bike the Moveable Feast, Jan. 23
Saskatoon Cycles invites you to ride your bike from one restaurant to another on the second annual Winter Bike the Moveable Feast on Jan. 23.

SaskOutdoors AGM, Jan. 23
Sask Outdoors will be hosting their annual general meeting on Jan. 23 in Lumsden. There will be a lunchtime presentation by Rosemary McCallum, a participant of the Nimis Kahpimotate Sister Journey Women's Wilderness Canoe Trip.

Saskatoon Nature Society Field Trips
Jan. 10, 2-4 pm – Sanatorium Park & Riverbank
Check the Saskatoon Nature Society’s website for full details (e.g. some trips require rubber boots; others will be cancelled if the weather is bad).

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Can it be recycled? How can I dispose of it? The City of Saskatoon’s online Waste Wizard provides the answers.

San Mateo’s wastewater treatment plant will produce fuel for its City vehicles.

A woolly mammoth tusk has been found at a work site east of Saskatoon

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Tuesday 22 December 2015

EcoSask News, December 22, 2015

Happy Solstice!

Upcoming Events
Green Drinks Regina, Jan. 7 
Join Green Drinks Regina at 5:45 pm, Jan. 7, as they discuss greening the Saskatchewan grid and environmentally sustainable products.

Permaculture Regina Board Meeting, Jan. 7
Permaculture Regina’s board meeting is scheduled for 6 pm, Jan. 7.

Piping Plover Census, June
Nature Saskatchewan is looking for volunteers who have time to check for Piping Plovers on gravelly beaches, lake shorelines, or alkali wetlands at one or more locations in Saskatchewan in the first two weeks of June 2016. For more information, email the Saskatchewan Coordinator at

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 

Congratulations to the Saskatchewan Environmental Society for urging the Government of Saskatchewan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Excellent media coverage!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 
This Japanese town is set to become zero waste by 2020. They separate recycling into 37 different commodities, have a store where people can drop off and take used items for free, and a factory that makes items from previously recycled pieces.

Wolves are Welcome
The state of Washington welcomes wolves back – across deep political divides.

Rethinking the City
“Reimagining our cities provides us an important opportunity to reconsider the various structures of urban life—transportation, food, and community—both environmentally and socially. The slow and necessary steps of eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels will certainly be difficult, yet we should see it as an occasion to remake our places that are humane, convivial, and sustainable.”

The Internet Shouldn’t Run on Dirty Energy
An internet powered by 100% renewable energy is within our reach.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Sunday 20 December 2015

Thursday 17 December 2015

What Wine Should I Choose?

Wine – there are so many choices – the varietal, the country, the price. Here are some tips if you’d also like to choose a wine that is environmentally sustainable.

Is it local?
Were the grapes grown locally?
How far did the wine have to be shipped?
Is the winery a small company or a large multinational?
Are the producers and distributors locally based?

Does the winery use sustainable farming practices?
Do they water their vineyards and, if so, how?
Is the wine organic or biodynamic?
Do they use chemical fertilizers and pesticides?

What else?
Does the winery use lightweight bottles?
Do they use recycled materials?
What do they do with their waste products?

Two Possibilities
Here are two wines that have a relatively low carbon footprint.

Quail’s Gate Chenin Blanc
Quail's Gate Chenin Blanc is a VQA wine. All the grapes are grown in British Columbia, our closest wine-producing province.
Quail’s Gate uses organic fertilizers and supplements. They target their chemical applications.
Drip irrigation helps to conserve water.
Remote vineyard monitoring stations allow them to operate fewer vehicles in the vineyard.
The winery uses lightweight bottles containing high levels of recycled materials.

Luzón Organic
Luzón Organic meets strict European Union organic certification standards.
Native plants grow between the rows of vines.
The fields aren’t irrigated, despite very hot summer weather.
This is a Spanish wine, but it’s imported by Saskatchewan’s only locally based wine marketing company.

These wines were served at the Rob Dumont Energy Management Awards Dinner in October. The article was also published in the December 2015 issue of flow magazine.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

EcoSask News, December 15, 2015

grass and snow

Upcoming Events
Restoration Training Workshop, Feb. 16
A one-day workshop on natural processes for the restoration of drastically disturbed sites will be held in Saskatoon on Feb. 16 in advance of the Prairie Conservation and Endangered Species Conference.

Saskatchewan Living Green Expo, Feb. 26-28
The Saskatchewan Living Green Expo showcases local, environmentally friendly products and services as well as talks by green living experts. This year's expo will be held at Prairieland Park from Feb. 26-28.

Winter Biking
FatLanders FatTire Brigade is the only known FatBike specific cycling club in Canada. Their members organize weekly rides throughout the winter and will be hosting several special events in conjunction with the Wintershines Festival in January.

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

ice on the river

Stuart Houston is the 2015 recipient of the Meewasin Conservation Award which is presented annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the natural heritage resources of the Meewasin Valley. Stuart is recognized as one of the leading authorities on birds in Canada.

Rethinking Garbage Routes
Using real-time data collected over the past few months, the City of Saskatoon is launching new garbage and recycling collection routes that have been optimised to make trips as short and direct as possible, reducing fuel consumption and reducing the City’s carbon footprint.

Wolseley Nature Trails
The Wolseley Nature Conservation Society’s nature trails are designed to bring people together to enjoy nature.

Ships, Trucks & Trains
With 47,000 ships and 3 million trucks transporting goods around the world, opportunities to reduce our impact abound.

A Civilization Reboot
Nine issues for climate change leaders to think about after COP21 – from the easy to the very, very hard.

Spain’s Most Walkable City 
54% of trips are made by foot in Vitorio-Gasteiz, Spain. And, instead of a ring road, they’re building a 1,000 hectare greenbelt.

Social Tech Guide
The Social Tech Guide highlights 1000 social ventures that are addressing complex social challenges through digital technology. Ventures range from the next generation of wind and solar technology to divers mapping and clearing ocean debris.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday 10 December 2015

Temperance Street Passive House: Saskatoon's First Passive House

“If all goes according to plan, this will be the first passive house in Saskatchewan,” Robin Adair says, “But we’re building on the work of Harold Orr and Rob Dumont and the Conservation House that was completed in 1977.”

Robin Adair, Green Builder Inc., has been building energy-efficient homes for a number of years, but the Temperance Street Passive House is the first one to seek passive house certification. “It’s really about climate change,” Robin says. “Building costs are 5-10% higher when you follow passive house criteria, but it will use 90% less energy than a home that follows the current building code. Solar energy will provide approximately 56% of the house’s electrical demand.”

Raising the Profile
The Temperance Street Passive House is much more than a job for all the people involved in the project. Mark Prebble, the real estate consultant overseeing the project, says, “Robin, Mike, and I are very much doing this with interests and considerations beyond the roles we are charged with as builder, designer, and realtor. It is about raising the profile of passive house design and increasing the level of consciousness within the industry. It didn't take long for those on site to appreciate the difference in the building techniques and just how special a project it is. It's an important home for our community to see demonstrated but also to recognize just how applicable the design principles are.”

One of the key elements of passive house design is the energy modelling that is carried out prior to undertaking construction. “All the building elements are entered into the model,” Robin explains. “It tells you very accurately what your energy consumption will be.” Mike Nemeth, Bright Buildings, who has assisted in the engineering and design of the building, says that it’s important to get more people trained in the use of the PHPP design software. The software contains everything necessary for designing a properly functioning passive house.

Although Saskatoon has bitterly cold winters, the City and the Province have not yet incorporated energy-efficiency standards into the building code. "The building industry needs to realize that we can achieve energy efficiency with very little additional effort on each of the planning, design, and construction stages," Mark says. "Builders will be surprised at what can be achieved for little additional cost. The City, for their part, should take a leadership role and not wait for provincial legislation of a more progressive building code. Much has changed since the early 1980s and an increase to these standards is long overdue, particularly when one considers the amount of energy required to heat our homes here in Saskatchewan and household contributions to carbon emissions each year."

The Temperance Street house’s foundation is completely insulated. It sits on and is surrounded by foam insulation. The Larsen truss walls and triple-glazed, Passive-House-certified windows also contribute to the house’s energy-efficient design.

The construction uses taped plywood to provide a vapour barrier rather than the more common polyethylene sheet. “This is probably the ideal approach,” Mike says. “You achieve extreme levels of airtightness and it’s part of the structural framing. Poly can be airtight, but it requires lots of fine work, and every time you add an electrical plug in, you break the vapour barrier. With this service cavity, you don’t come into contact with the plywood barrier.”

The house’s airtightness is put to the test twice before it receives passive house certification. The first blower test is conducted after the framing and the second after everything is in place. An R2000-certified house has 1.5 air exchanges per hour. There can’t be more than .6 air exchanges per hour to receive passive house certification and Robin Adair hopes that the Temperance Street duplex, which has gone beyond the minimum requirements, will achieve .2 or .3.

Passive house design is common in Germany and other parts of Europe but much less so in North America. One of the challenges is demonstrating that passive housing is affordable as well as energy efficient. Mike Nemeth hopes that at least one unit of Saskatoon’s Radiance Cohousing will be certified passive, and the principles of passive house design will be used throughout the complex to ensure high levels of energy efficiency.

Ottawa’s Salus Clementine, a 42-unit housing complex for residents living with mental illness in Ottawa, has been designed to achieve LEED for Homes Platinum status while adhering to the Passive House standard.

A great many local resources are available to people who are interested in building or renovating their home to make it energy-efficient.

Passive House Principles
Passive House SK 
Canadian Passive House Institute West
Passive House Institute (website and flipbook/brochure)
Passive House: Comfortable, Energy-Efficient Homes

Local Companies Specializing in Energy Efficiency
Green Builder Inc.
Integrated Building Envelope Service
Bright Buildings
Integrated Designs
Vereco Homes

Photo Credit: Robin Adair

Tuesday 8 December 2015

EcoSask News, December 8, 2015


Upcoming Events
Green Drinks Saskatoon, Dec. 11
Green Drinks Saskatoon will be meeting at 5:30 pm, Dec. 11, at the Capitol Music Club.

Regina Christmas Bird Counts 
Nature Regina will be hosting the following Christmas bird counts:
Dec. 19 – Craven (includes Lumsden)
Dec. 27 – Regina
Jan. 2 – Balgonie (includes White City and Pilot Butte)

Drop-In at the Zoo, Dec. 29-30
The Saskatoon Zoo Society is hosting a drop-in interpretation program for kids from 1-3 pm, Dec. 29 & 30.

Christmas Bird Count for Kids, Jan. 2/3
The Christmas Bird Count for Kids will be held on Jan. 2 in Saskatoon and Jan. 3 in Regina.

Saskatoon Young Naturalists
Jan. 3, 11 am – Snowshoeing
Jan. 23, 1-3 pm – Tracks and Scats
Feb. 6, 1-2:30 pm – Chickadee Pishing
Space is limited; register early to avoid disappointment.

Wascana Junior Naturalists (Regina) 
Children ages 9-13 are invited to register for the spring session of the Wascana Junior Naturalists. Only 20 spots are available for each session.

Invasive Species Conference, Jan. 30 (Regina)
The Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan is holding its annual general meeting and conference on Jan. 30, 2016. The theme of the conference is invasive species.

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 


Wolf Cull 
The Government of Saskatchewan is opening up wolf hunting in selected areas on Dec. 15. Ostensibly, it’s to prevent livestock predation, but many ranchers and scientists believe it’s the wrong approach. Rancher Gord Vaadeland, CPAWS-SK, says,“Wolf culling is more likely to increase predation on livestock than it is to reduce it. The science is pretty clear on this. According to the largest study ever done on wolf culling and its impact on livestock predation rates, for every wolf that is culled through this type of program, predation of livestock rises on average by 5 to 6 percent."

Plastic-Free Campus Manual
The PLAN Plastic-Free Campus Manual is available online and includes tips on conducting a plastic audit, identifying alternatives to single-use plastics, and making plastic-free a positive experience.

Building a Successful Green Energy Plan
In a lengthy article, Chris Turner reviews the successes and failures of Ontario’s green energy plan, pointing to the need for community involvement and corporate support.

Care For and Enjoy 
Stewardship – ripping out weeds, building trails – takes time and investment and builds a closer link to nature than simply participating in outdoor activities 

Eating Our Future 
Every mouthful we eat shapes the world. We’re environmental activists three times a day [16-minute TEDx talk]

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday 3 December 2015

Energy Savings in the Saskatoon Health Region

With 71 buildings. the Saskatoon Health Region is always on the lookout for ways to reduce utility costs and save energy without using patient dollars. Brian Berzola, Director, Facilities Management, and Doug Archibald, Manager, Energy Services, shared some of their triumphs and challenges.

Energy Performance Contract 
The Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) has just completed Phase I of an energy performance contract with Johnson Controls. Johnson Controls worked with Health Region employees to identify energy saving projects at Royal University Hospital that were guaranteed to save money. This guarantee from Johnson Controls permitted SHR to borrow the money needed to complete the projects and they’ll use the savings to pay back the loan.

The contract covers projects that will have a payback (total investment divided by annual savings) in 15 years or less.

Occupancy Controls 
Royal University Hospital is an older hospital. Large fans maintained a 24-hour air flow exchange, even in areas that were only used 8 hours a day, and consumed large amounts of energy. SHR has now installed electronic occupancy controls to ensure that the fans are shut off if the area isn’t in use on evenings and weekends.

Lighting throughout the hospital was reviewed and replaced with more energy-efficient lighting, either LED or T8 fluorescent light fixtures with electronic ballasts. LED lighting was chosen for exterior sites as well as hallways and public areas, while T8s were used in patient rooms that require a softer light.

When putting together an energy performance contract, the goal is to put together a package that not only pays off your investment but also leaves you with a surplus that can be put towards projects that you couldn’t otherwise afford.

The Health Region applied some of the surplus dollars to install full spectrum LED lights in the Mall. “We wanted to remove the doom and gloom and give more of a daylight experience,” Brian Berzola explains.

Royal University Hospital is heated by steam purchased from the University of Saskatchewan. It comes across in huge pipes that can lose a lot of heat in transit. Jackets have now been installed to insulate the pipes and prevent heat loss.

Weatherstripping was also used to insulate doors and windows throughout RUH.

Steam Traps
Steam travels from the University to RUH and the condensate then makes the return journey to be reheated and reused. Steam traps capture the latent heat before the water is sent back. If they’re not tight, heat is lost. 100 steam traps were replaced and the Health Region anticipates a payback in just a couple of years.

“By replacing the steam traps, we reduce the amount of heat that we have to purchase and we reduce the need to cool the rooms where the steam was escaping,” Doug Archibald explains.

Low-flow toilets were installed throughout Royal University Hospital.

Additional Sustainability Projects 
The Health Region is looking at additional environmental sustainability projects which are outside the parameters of the energy performance contract.

Parking & Transportation 
Parking is hugely expensive to build and maintain. It’s also extremely complex. “We’re constantly trying to identify the right quantity of parking and to find the right balance between parking that is close to where people work (e.g. for night staff or a doctor delivering a baby) and further away for office staff who only work Monday to Friday. It’s also important to provide adequate handicapped parking.

The Health Region is working with the City of Saskatoon to identify other possibilities, such as park and ride or special buses that stop at the door of the hospital. “We’re always looking for ways to reduce congestion and demand on our parking lots,” Brian says.

Waste & Recycling
Medical facilities face a particular challenge when attempting to recycle and reduce waste. The Health Region has a small recycling program for some plastics, cardboard and paper, and batteries, and they’re interested in expanding the program to incorporate other items.

The biggest problem is medical waste as it has proven to be extremely difficult to ensure that medical waste is completely separated from other garbage or recycling. Medical waste is sent to Biomed Recovery & Disposal in Aberdeen for processing. They do their best to sterilize everything, but some material has to be incinerated.

Because it’s so hard to guarantee full separation, contractors are forced to immediately bury every load of waste that is removed from the Health Region.

Disposables vs. Reusables 
There is an ongoing debate regarding the use of disposable versus reusable items. Reusable items may, at first glance, appear to offer an energy savings; however, that isn’t always the case. Heating and sterilizing equipment uses a lot of energy, equipment, and people and poses an additional liability risk. Similarly, with a central laundry in Regina, the energy consumed in transportation must be factored in when considering cloth versus disposable paper gowns.

Chemicals & Infection Control
Infection control is of ongoing concern, and the Health Region currently uses quite a number of harsh cleaning chemicals to attempt to prevent the spread of disease. Brian Berzola is examining the potential of using UV lights to sterilize patient rooms and washrooms. Here are a few of the options: 

Patient Washrooms: A UV light can be installed over washroom doors with a motion sensor that is only turned on when the door is closed and no one is in the room. Once activated, it disinfects the whole room.

UV Light Stands: British Columbia is using portable UV light stands with 8 bulbs to sterilize patient rooms. Stands are set up in empty rooms and placed so that there are no shadows and every surface is exposed to direct light (even drawers are opened). Once they’re set up, you walk out of the room and turn on the lights by remote control. The room is completely sterilized. “It’s not cheap,’ Brian says. “Each sets of tubes costs approximately $100,000. In addition, the room must be empty, and we rarely have empty rooms.”

UV Light Scrubbers: UV light scrubbers can be mounted on the ceiling, directly above a patient’s bed. Fans draw the air up, and it travels through chambers where it is scrubbed clean before being put back into the room.

The Health Region is also investigating a long-lasting anti-microbial finish that can be applied to high-touch areas, such as tables and doorknobs. “It’s like Teflon,” Doug says. “Germs just slide off and are killed.”

Looking Ahead 
Brian and Doug emphasize that they work very hard not to divert dollars intended for patient care to energy projects. However, in the long run, energy savings and infrastructure improvements will lead to a safer, more comfortable patient experience. Let’s hope that the Saskatoon Health Region continues its search for ways to reduce energy consumption.

Additional Information 
Energy Performance Contracting Guide, Natural Resources Canada 
Ultraviolet Light Could Be Enlisted in Battle Against Hospital Infections

Photo Credit: Saskatoon Health Region

Tuesday 1 December 2015

EcoSask News, December 1, 2015


Upcoming Events
City Energy & Sustainability Initiatives, Dec. 2
Chris Richards, the Energy and Sustainability Engineering Section Manager, City of Saskatoon, will be presenting on the work of his section, which includes combined heat and power, route optimization (fuel savings), and energy performance contracting at the Energy Management Task Force breakfast meeting on Dec. 2. He will also discuss some of the latest developments related to the City signing on to the Compact of Mayors and creating new corporate and community greenhouse gas emissions inventories.

North Commuter Parkway Development Hearing, Dec. 4
The Meewasin Valley Authority will consider an application from Graham Construction on the early work on the North Commuter Parkway at their regular meeting on Dec. 4. The public is invited to attend and make presentations.

Beginner’s Guide to the Inner Workings of Birds, Dec. 10
Peter Flood will explain why birds are as astonishing on the inside as on the outside at the 7:30 pm, Dec. 10, meeting of the Saskatoon Nature Society.

Christmas Bird Counts
Dec. 16 – Radisson/Borden
Dec. 19 – Clark’s Crossing
Dec. 20 – Qu’Appelle Valley Dam
Dec. 21 – Gardiner Dam
Dec. 26 – Saskatoon
Jan. 2 – Pike Lake
For more information, contact the Saskatoon Nature Society.

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar 

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society has taken a strong position on the Chaplin Wind Project

An Edmonton community association has invested in super-efficient LED rink and parking lot lights as well as a solar energy system

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include.

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Tuesday 24 November 2015

EcoSask News, November 24, 2015

gray day by the river

Upcoming Events
This Changes Everything, Nov. 29 (Regina) 
This Changes Everything, a film based on Naomi Klein’s book, will be screened at the University of Regina, from 1:30-4:30 pm, Nov. 29.

Wascana Master Plan, Dec. 2 
Wascana Centre is holding an Open House at 7 pm, Dec. 2. The architects will present a draft WCA Master Plan.

Permaculture Regina Visioning Session, Dec. 5 
Discuss the vision, mission, and goals for Permaculture Regina at the Permaculture Regina Visioning Session from 10 am to 3 pm, Dec. 5.

PermaSask Solstice Drop-In Brunch, Dec. 6 
Join PermaSask from 10 am to 12 pm, Dec. 6, for a Drop-In Brunch celebrating World Soil Day, International Year of Soil, and Winter Solstice. Bring food to share, participate in a compost exchange, and play the Soil Game.

Wildlife Basic Skills, Feb. 27-28 
The International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council is holding the Wildlife Basic Skills Course in Saskatoon on Feb. 27-28. The course is a must for anyone interested in becoming a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator and an asset for those looking to volunteer in wildlife rehabilitation.

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

There's strong scientific evidence of the positive impact of coyotes on other grassland creatures

More than half the trees in the Amazon are at risk of extinction - “reining in the world’s appetite for meat and highly processed snack foods may be what it takes to keep these forests’ astounding diversity of trees from disappearing”

Setting an energy efficiency target is a powerful tool to rally stakeholders behind a common vision and accelerate energy efficiency in cities

EcoFriendly Action Grants - November 
This month, EcoFriendly Sask supported the Northeast Swale Watchers with a $500 grant for a brochure and pin to equip and empower citizens to speak up on behalf of the Swale.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Monday 23 November 2015

Urban Planning: An Evolving Appreciation for the Northeast Swale

Note: This article is based on a conversation with Mike Velonas, Manager of Planning and Consservation, Meewasin Valley Authority, and emails from Alan Wallace, Director of Planning and Development, City of Saskatoon.

The northeast swale is an ancient river channel that stretches north and then east from the Forestry Farm before connecting with the current river valley at Clark’s Crossing. It’s a shallow rock-strewn basin that stretches for 26 kilometers.

The Meewasin Northeast Swale (The Swale) is the small portion of the swale that falls within City of Saskatoon boundaries (300 of 2800 hectares in total). The remaining 90% of the swale falls within the rural municipalities of Corman Park and Aberdeen and is referred to as the Greater Swale.

The Swale represents one of the few remaining remnants of native prairie ecosystem and is an important wildlife corridor that is home to more than 200 native plant species, 180 bird species, and a variety of other animals. It is a natural filter for air and water and helps to mitigate flooding in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Meewasin Valley Authority 
The Meewasin Valley Authority was created in 1979 by an Act of the Province of Saskatchewan and is the means by which its three participating parties – City of Saskatoon, Government of Saskatchewan, and the University of Saskatchewan – have chosen to manage the Meewasin Valley in the South Saskatchewan River Basin.

The MVA’s mission is to “ensure a healthy and vibrant river valley, with a balance between human use and conservation by providing leadership in the management of its resources, promoting understanding, conservation and beneficial use of the Valley, and undertaking programs and projects in river valley development and conservation, for the benefit of present and future generations.”

The MVA has long recognized the importance of protecting The Swale. Raymond Moriyama’s initial concept plan for the South Saskatchewan River area identified the importance of The Swale for the City of Saskatoon in 1978. In the early 1990s, the MVA commissioned a report to identify priority areas for protection. Again, The Swale was on the list.

The Meewasin Valley Authority has made protecting The Swale a priority and has worked hard to convince its partner organizations of the area’s relevance. It is due in large part to their efforts that there has been an evolution in the way urban planners have looked at this area.

Changing Attitudes 
In the 1970s, The Swale was set apart from the built-up area of Saskatoon, its only neighbours the University of Saskatchewan and the community of Sutherland. There was little impetus to build in this area as the high groundwater level would make it difficult and costly to dig and service. “90% of the surface water you see in The Swale is groundwater,” Mike Velonas, Manager of Planning and Conservation, Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA), explains.

In the 1980s, the City started planning the University Heights sector. This called for the construction of new neighbourhoods in and around The Swale.

Mike Velonas believes that a review of these recent neighbourhood developments indicates an evolution in our thinking about the Swale and its importance in an urban environment. As Alan Wallace, Director of Planning and Development, City of Saskatoon, explains, the regulatory framework changed as environmental issues became more important and planners recognized the significance of The Swale.

A portion of the Silverspring neighbourhood, constructed in the mid-1990s, was built more or less on top of The Swale. The MVA fought to protect 34 acres of grasslands. This area, now known as the Saskatoon Natural Grasslands, carved a chunk out of the residential development that can be easily seen on a map of this neighbourhood.

Silverspring neighbourhood demonstrated the need to do more advance environmental screening in the Sector planning process. As a result, the City amended its Official Community Plan to incorporate new standards for environmental screening.

One of the next neighbourhoods to be developed in University Heights was Evergreen. This time, as a result of the environmental screening process, the City did not attempt to build on top of The Swale but rather nestled up against it. However, Fedoruk Drive, Evergreen’s northern boundary, is effectively in The Swale and wet and dry storm water management ponds were constructed inside The Swale.

It’s worth noting at this point that The Swale is not pristine. There are four roads in The Swale (Central Avenue, Lowe Road, Agra Road, Range Road 3045) and other disturbances beyond what has occurred during more recent construction.

Another example of the value of the environmental screening process is the proposed neighbourhood of Aspen Ridge, which is built entirely on cultivated land outside The Swale and incorporates a greenway to act as a buffer zone. As Alan Wallace explains, the 24-metre greenway is comprised of a 15-metre ecological buffer, a trail zone, and a transition zone, and is designed to serve as separation between the back of residential lots and the boundary of The Swale.

Development Guidelines 
The vast majority of The Swale lies outside current city limits, within the RMs of Corman Park and Aberdeen where it has little or no protection.

In contrast, the City of Saskatoon and the Meewasin Valley Authority have, over the last few years, taken significant steps to recognize and protect the portion of the northeast swale that falls within city limits and have developed a wide variety of regulatory tools to protect the area.

“It’s important to note that The Swale has several existing layers of protection,” Alan Wallace explains. They are as follows and in no particular order:

1. University Heights Sector Plan: The map of the University Heights Sector identifies The Swale as an important natural area. No urban development may occur within The Swale without City Council amending the University Heights Sector Plan.

2. Northeast Swale Development Guidelines: In 2002, the City contracted Stantec to develop the Northeast Swale Guidelines. The guidelines designated the appropriate areas for road crossings and other infrastructure within the Swale.

The 2002 report focused on identifying routes through the driest areas of the Swale in order to protect the wetlands. However, in 2011 the MVA conducted an ecoblitz and realized that the heart of The Swale – the area of greatest interest and greatest biodiversity – was also the area the 2002 Guidelines identified as a corridor for roads and power.

The MVA determined that the corridor would have to be moved in order to protect The Swale. As a result of their actions, the Northeast Swale Development Guidelines were updated in 2012 to provide greater protection for this area by moving the location of the roads and power corridor.

The 24-meter Greenway in Aspen Ridge is an example of the protective features included in the Development Guidelines.

3. MVA Conservation Zone: The Swale (the area within city limits) is contained within the MVA Conservation Zone. As such, no development will be permitted which is contrary to the North East Policy and related policies which are in place to protect The Swale.

4. Meewasin Valley Authority Resource Management Plan: The Resource Management Plan outlines what should be done to maintain biodiversity in the Swale.

5. Public Ownership: The City of Saskatoon owns the land area comprising the NE Swale within city limits. Any attempt to sell part of this land would need to be approved by the City’s Land Bank Committee and City Council.

6. The Meewasin Northeast Swale Master Plan: In Fall 2015, the City of Saskatoon and Meewasin Valley Authority adopted the Northeast Swale Master Plan to “support conservation, education and passive recreation while integrating this rare and natural area into the growing urban form …. The Master Plan’s design objectives include conserving biodiversity, supporting passive recreation, accommodating education and research, interpreting history and supporting a communications plan. Further considerations include maintaining site connectivity and nocturnal light levels, providing pedestrian connections to adjacent areas and public safety and accessibility.”

As Mike Velonas explains, Meewasin Valley Authority’s goal in creating the Master Plan was to balance the needs of people with those of the plants and wildlife that live in the Swale by providing the public with controlled access to the Swale. The Master Plan will serve as a framework for future decision-making but is dependent on funding.

The MVA will attempt to fence the perimeter of The Swale as phase 1 of the Master Plan.

7. Environmental Reserve: The Administration will be reporting back to City Council on the implications of designating the NE Swale as an environmental reserve in February 2016.

Conservation Opportunity of a Lifetime 
The Northeast Swale Watchers keeps a close eye on activity in and around The Swale and have a number of concerns (The Northeast Swale: Saskatoon’s Conservation Opportunity of a Lifetime). However, it is important to recognize that there has been considerable progress over the last 20-30 years and the Meewasin Valley Authority and the City of Saskatoon have taken significant steps to protect this important natural area and integrate it with urban development.

A regional planning process is currently underway. We can only hope that the regional plan will ensure that the Greater Swale (which is outside city limits) will also undergo an environmental screening and protection process.

By acting together and maintaining our efforts, we can protect the northeast swale for future generations.

See Also
The Northeast Swale: Saskatoon’s Conservation Opportunity of a Lifetime (a conversation with Louise Jones and Candace Savage, Northeast Swale Watchers)

Giving Nature a Voice at the Urban Planning Table

The Northeast Swale: Ancient River Valley, Urban Nature Reserve

Meewasin Valley Authority

Thursday 19 November 2015

The Northeast Swale: Saskatoon's Conservation Opportunity of a Lifetime

Note: This article is based on a November 2015 conversation with Louise Jones and Candace Savage of the Northeast Swale Watchers, an advocacy group whose goal is to protect the biodiversity of the Swale.

The land whispers in your ear as you walk across the Northeast Swale. Its low-lying wetlands and rocky promontories speak of an ancient river channel, carved by the melt waters from a slow-moving glacier. Smooth, shiny areas on lichen-covered rocks tell of buffalo that halted in their journey to relieve an itch by rubbing themselves.

Pause for a moment and feel the life pulsing around you. This important fragment of an ancient prairie landscape is home to more than 100 species of birds and 200 species of plants. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the song of a meadowlark. Part the grasses at your feet and you may spy a rare crowfoot violet. Both mule deer and white-tailed deer have made this land their home. This magical landscape isn’t a remote wilderness area. Instead, it lies on the very edge of Saskatoon, soon to be surrounded by new residential neighbourhoods. The land cries out to us, demanding that we value it and protect it for future inhabitants.

From Challenge to Opportunity
The Meewasin Valley Authority and the City of Saskatoon are to be commended for recognizing the value of this urban nature preserve, but much remains to be done if we are to protect and sustain this area in the face of ongoing development.

The Northeast Swale Watchers keep a close eye on activity in and around the Swale and have a number of concerns.

Gaps in Master Plan
The City of Saskatoon and the Meewasin Valley Authority recently approved the Northeast Swale Master Plan. The plan covers the part of the Swale that is within City limits and is intended to provide comprehensive planning and resource management.

“The problem with the Plan is that it doesn’t follow through on its good intentions, says Candace Savage, a local writer and member of the Northeast Swale Watchers. “The principles are there, the language is great, but many key provisions of the plan are unsatisfactory.”

Lack of Connectivity
A significant problem is that the Master Plan doesn’t protect the ecological connectivity of the Swale. The Swale is an ancient river channel providing a natural connection to the river. Animals looking for water use the Swale to reach the river. Connected wetlands and ground water flow towards the river. Maintaining that connectivity is critical if we are to protect this natural area. Unfortunately, we seem to be breaking it up into tiny pieces.

The Plan provides for the part of the Swale that is within City limits (300 hectares, 5 kilometers long) to be dissected by four roadways, including two major new thoroughfares – the Perimeter Highway and the North Commuter Parkway. In contrast, Fish Creek Provincial Park in southwest Calgary at over 1300 hectares is one of North America’s largest urban parks. It is surrounded by urban neighbourhoods. “And yet, over its 19-kilometer length, Fish Creek Park is bisected by only two roads,” Candace says. “Somehow or other, Calgary is managing to conserve the relative ‘wholeness’ of this much-loved natural area and, at the same time, grow to support a population of 1.2 million residents.”

The Master Plan emphasizes the importance of ecological connectivity, lists the problems caused by situating two major roadways less than a kilometer apart, and yet does nothing to resolve the problem. There are solutions, such as moving the Perimeter Highway further outside of Saskatoon’s expanding city limits and connecting it with the new Warman overpass, but the Provincial Government appears unwilling to revise their outdated plans.

Good Intentions
The City of Saskatoon and the Meewasin Valley Authority have good intentions, but they fail to translate into action. Construction has already started in Aspen Ridge, but municipal officials admit they “fell down” in providing the contractors with the pre-development guidelines, which were specifically designed to protect this ecologically sensitive area.

It appears that lighting for the North Commuter Parkway will be the same as any other major arterial controlled access roadway with no allowance being made for its location in the Swale with lower speeds and a dark area where animals are expected to cross the road.

The Swale Watchers have documented examples of instructions not being passed along to sub-contractors. “It’s not good enough,” says Louise. “The City is always trying to fix things up after the fact.”

“We need to do a much better job of ensuring that what happens on the ground is what the planners envisioned,” Candace says. “It doesn’t matter if you have good intentions. What matters is what happens.”

Who Will Take Responsibility?
The Meewasin Valley Authority is responsible for long-term ecological monitoring. The City of Saskatoon and its contractors have responsibility for monitoring work in progress. The two parties appear to be passing the buck with no one currently ensuring that residential and roadway development is in line with the Northeast Swale Master Plan and guidelines.

In addition, monitoring in and of itself isn’t sufficient. What action will the City take if the work isn’t in compliance? Will they be prepared to stop work?

“Alberta has strict construction guidelines. They’re not unexpected,” Louise says. “Saskatoon shouldn’t be afraid to expect compliance. I’m sure the contractors would prefer clear guidelines from the beginning to ongoing complaints.”

“City councillors have tried to find a balance between competing interests,” Louise says. “They need to forget balance and start agreeing on priorities. Compromise means no one is happy and everything is watered down.”

Competing Priorities
Integrated project management with an overarching authority taking responsibility for ensuring that the Swale is protected would go a long way to addressing the problems which continue to arise.

Unfortunately, if there is an overarching authority, it errs on the side of promoting development. The Land branch is extremely powerful as it actually makes money, rather than simply spending it. It operates at arm’s length from the other municipal departments and has pushed development around the Swale because it owns the land, despite the fact that the local housing market is currently over-saturated.

Saskatoon should look to the City of Edmonton’s Office of Biodiversity, which coordinates biodiversity for the city, working with other departments to ensure that natural areas are protected.

What Can I Do?
As individuals, we often feel powerless. But that isn’t the case. Stewards and activists both play a vital role in protecting our natural areas.

Stewards of the Land
The Rosewood Community Association takes pride in its numerous green corridors and parks, including the Hyde Park Naturalized Area. Local residents hold regular park clean-ups and some residents, who are fortunate enough to back onto the naturalized park, are changing the plantings in their own yards so as not to introduce foreign plants into the park.

Evergreen residents, with the support of members of their community association board, have just begun setting up a Northeast Swale stewardship group. There is so much that a neighbourhood stewardship group can do to both protect and enjoy the wild area that is right on their doorstep. It could be as simple as recording the number of deer you see as you look out your window. School groups are already helping to monitor water quality, and the Meewasin Valley Authority would welcome assistance with monitoring, revegetation, and controlled burns.

The Swale is invaluable as an outdoor classroom, readily accessible from all parts of the community. Students from Saskatoon and Martensville are already visiting the Swale, taking advantage of this nearby opportunity to learn about native plants and hear the distinctive call of the meadowlark.

Conserving Nature Within City Limits
Lobbying our politicians helps to shape the political agenda. And the more voices there are, the more likely it is that our words will be heeded and acted upon.

If you want to help protect the Northeast Swale, be sure to attend the public meeting at 7 pm, November 25, 2015, at the Frances Morrison Library. A viewing of the documentary The Nature of Cities will be followed by an update on development plans for the Northeast Swale.

The Northeast Swale Watchers are also on Facebook.

See Also
Urban Planning: An Evolving Appreciation for the Northeast Swale (a conversation with Mike Velonas, Meewasin Valley Authority, and Alan Wallace, City of Saskatoon)

Giving Nature a Voice at the Urban Planning Table

The Northeast Swale: Ancient River Valley, Urban Nature Reserve

Tuesday 17 November 2015

EcoSask News, November 17, 2015


Upcoming Events
Tox on Tap, Nov. 17 
Author Jerry Haigh will lead a discussion about Pink Rhino Horns and Other Toxic Wildlife Matters at the 6:30 pm, Nov. 17, meeting of Tox on Tap at the Woods Ale House.

Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (Regina), Nov. 26 
The best of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival will be shown in Regina at 7 pm, Nov. 26.

Grazing Response Index, Dec. 9 
PCAP is hosting a webinar presentation by Kerry LaForge, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada regarding the Grazing Response Index on Dec. 9.

Saskatoon Nature Society Field Trips 
Nov. 29, 2 – 3 pm – Pre-Grey Cup Birding at President Murray Park
Dec. 5, 9 am – 5 pm – Gardiner Dam Birding
Check the Saskatoon Nature Society’s website for full details (e.g. some trips require rubber boots, others will be cancelled if the weather is bad).

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

U of S Green Spaces Certified Vendors 
27 University of Saskatchewan food vendors have received Green Spaces certification. Vendors earn Green Spaces certification by sending kitchen scraps to the organics bin, eliminating polystyrene takeout containers, providing discounts to customers who bring reusable containers or mugs, and other criteria

The program will help the University reach its goal of diverting 1,500 tonnes of organics annually.

Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation Adopt an Animal Program
Adopt an animal and give it a second chance. Adoption fees go toward food, housing, medical care, transportation, and general care provided by Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation.

Species at Risk Calendar 
Copies of Nature Saskatchewan’s Species at Risk calendar are now available by contacting

SK Waste Minimization Awards 
Nominations are now open for the Saskatchewan Waste Minimization Awards.

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Tuesday 10 November 2015

EcoSask News, November 10, 2015

autumn leaves

Upcoming Events
Green Drinks Saskatoon, Nov. 13 
Green Drinks Saskatoon will be meeting at The Ivy restaurant at 5:30 pm, Nov. 13.

Oil Extraction Talks, Nov. 18 & 25, Dec. 2 (Regina)
Join University of Regina researchers as they share their research on oil extraction from 1-2:30 pm in ED514, University of Regina, Nov. 18, 25, and Dec. 2.

Nov. 18: Emily Eaton will examine the regulatory framework for oil and gas in the province, identifying a trend toward less oversight and industry self-regulation during a time of increased drilling and production activity.

Nov. 25: Simon Enoch will outline the expansion of rail capacity for crude oil in Saskatchewan while also assessing the adequacy of current regulations to ensure the safe transport of this volatile commodity.

Dec. 2: Dr. Sean Tucker will review the causes of the safety events at the Consumer’s Co-operative Refinery between 2011 and 2015.

Household Hazardous Waste Days, Nov. 21
The City of Saskatoon accepts household hazardous waste once a month at the SaskTel Centre from 9 am - 3:30 pm. The next Household Hazardous Waste Day is Nov. 21.

Meet Sage the Burrowing Owl, Nov. 22
Sage, the Saskatoon Zoo Society’s new burrowing owl, will be at Wild Birds Unlimited at 1 pm, Nov. 22.

Conserving Nature Within City Limits, Nov. 25
The Northeast Swale is Saskatoon’s conservation opportunity of a lifetime, but it’s threatened by development. Participate in a discussion on Conserving Nature Within City Limits from 7-9 pm, Nov. 25, at the Frances Morrison Library.

A viewing of the documentary The Nature of Cities will be followed by an update on development plans for the Northeast Swale.

#Saskatoon2Paris, Nov. 29
Join the #Saskatoon2Paris climate mobilization march at 1 pm, Nov. 29.

Winter Camp, Dec. 5-6
SaskOutdoors and Sask Parks are hosting a winter camp at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, Dec. 5-6, to give participants the skills to camp year-round comfortably.

A full list of upcoming events can be found on the EcoFriendly Sask Calendar

Sense & Sustainability
“All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.” Sir David Attenborough 

Sense & Sustainability, a feature-length documentary, asks the question, “Is a species set on endless growth sustainable?” exploring the scale of the human endeavour and its impact on the environment.

The consequences of low oil prices: “Americans are driving more miles in less fuel-efficient vehicles and taking transit less often”

Edmonton's Community Energy Transition Strategy incorporates a net zero neighbourhood, increased public transit, and renewable energy

EcoSask News is a weekly round-up of local news and events. Email us if you have items you would like us to include. 

You can follow EcoFriendly Sask by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Thursday 5 November 2015

Bridging the Gap Between Attitude and Action

“Thinking is easy, acting difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action the most difficult thing in the world.” Goethe 

Community-Based Social Marketing 
One hundred per cent of Canadians think it’s a good idea to donate blood. One hundred per cent know why it’s important to donate blood. But less than 4% of Canadians actually donate blood. Why?

As Ken Donnelly, a practitioner with over 20 years of experience in community-based social marketing, explained at an Oct. 30 workshop sponsored by the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, there is a gap between attitude and awareness and behaviour that is extremely difficult to bridge.

Community-based social marketing (CBSM), as developed by Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr, applies behavioural psychology to environmental program promotion. It focuses on behaviour and emphasizes social contact. The CBSM toolbox incorporates research, small questions, prompts, commitment strategies, norms, and effective communications.

It’s impossible to summarize a full-day presentation in a short article; however, you can find some excellent online resources:

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: Community-Based Social Marketing: Doug McKenzie-More, a psychology professor at St. Thomas University, is the founder of community-based social marketing. His website provides articles, case studies, a discussion forum, and a free online copy of his first book.

Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing, McKenzie-More’s most recent book, is available from libraries in Saskatchewan.

Beyond Attitude: Ken Donnelly has employed CBSM principles in his consulting work to address a wide range of environmental concerns. His online blog/website contains a wealth of useful tips and best practices.

Tools of Change: The Tools of Change website provides a collection of voluntary behaviour change, social marketing, and CBSM case studies.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard 
As I learned more about community-based social marketing, I was struck by the similarities to a book I’d read a few years ago that had influenced me a great deal.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath outlines three key ingredients for change. First of all, there is the human component. The Rider is the rational, reflective, deliberative side of human behaviour. His counterpart is the Elephant, the emotional, instinctive side of human behaviour. Finally, there is the Path, the environment or situation surrounding the human players.

I wrote a three-part summary of Switch, which covers the three different approaches to change management:
Directing the Rider: finding the bright spots, scripting the critical moves, pointing to the destination 
Motivating the Elephant: using emotions, shrinking the change, growing your people
Shaping the Path: tweaking the environment, building habits, peer pressure

Additional information is available on the Heath brothers’ website.

Additional Information 
You may also be interested in the following Slideshare presentations:
Don’t Tell Me What To Do: 4 Tools for Creating Effective, Positive Messages
Bringing Numbers to Life
Penny McKinlay

Introductory image: iStock_000024612531