At the Committee of the Whole Meeting on May 19, the Elk River Alliance (ERA) delivered a presentation regarding wetland enhancements to Fernie ponds. The desired project hopes to improve water quality and habitat by enhancing wetland features in the Maiden Lake, Annex Pond, and the stormwater pond behind Canadian Tire (CT Pond).
“The project is important because it will increase watershed literacy, improve water quality, and create wetland habitat features,” said Beth Millions, executive director and program manager of the ERA.
To enhance wetland features, the ERA seeks to remove invasive species from the ponds, replacing them with native rushes and sedges planted around pond perimeters. According to Millions, vegetation like this filters the water through natural biological processes, removing excess sediment, contaminants, nutrients, and pathogens like E. coli. Doing so creates a habitat for species including amphibians, microorganisms, insects, and birds. The microorganisms inhabiting the aquatic vegetation are then able to further break down contaminants and increase nutrient uptake in the surrounding water.
With this project, the ERA also hopes to install floating wetlands in the CT Pond and the Maiden Lake. The floating wetlands recreate environments existing in natural shallow swamps and marshes. Used in bodies of water too deep to support emergent vegetation, the floating wetlands utilize floats to hold a growth matrix supporting emergent vegetation above water. The roots of said vegetation hang in the water column, providing surfaces for biofilm to adhere to. As stated by Millions, the biofilm, a layer of algae, microbes and bacteria, removes contaminants from the water, in addition to the uptake by the plants themselves.
While the ERA hoped to educate the public about watersheds through community workshops, the pandemic forced them to adapt their plans. They now seek to supplement this project by disseminating informative online material, as well as by installing interpretive signage around the ponds, educating the public about stormwater, water quality, and wetlands.
The Committee of the Whole meeting concluded that the City of Fernie Engineering Department will work alongside the ERA to assist them with this project, as the removal of invasive species, planting of native species, and addition of floating wetlands will significantly enhance the habitat of Fernie’s ponds.