By Jody MacPherson
Originally appeared in the Saddle Bag newsletter, official newsletter of the Calgary Stampede, Summer 2005

Preserving the past is one of the Calgary Exhibition & Stampede’s core values and protecting the environment is a part of preserving the past. To help fulfill this goal, the Stampede is partnering with other organizations to continue to protect and improve its commitment to the Elbow River and to the remainder of Stampede Park.

Gerry McHugh, chairman of the Stampede’s Environmental Protection committee, is a member of the River Valley committee, something the City of Calgary established with representatives from the city, concerned citizens, academics from the University of Calgary and members from other organizations such as the “River Keepers.”  The River Valley committee’s mandate is to provide recommendations to City Council on land use issues and concerns related to the River Valley.

“The Bow and Elbow Rivers are the backbone of the City of Calgary and require our commitment to preserve and protect,” says McHugh. “And groups such as the River Valley committee and Lower Elbow Partnership will ensure the next generation enjoys the same beauty that Stampede guests, volunteers, staff and citizens of the city do now.”

“The River Valley is not just the water you see, it’s the land, the way we deal with storm water, the vegetation along the riverbanks and the urbanization along the rivers,” says McHugh. “It’s about how we operate, play and care for this ecosystem. The river is the life blood for all that we love about our environment”.”

Besides a great river for inner tubing and other recreational activities, the Elbow is the source of drinking water for more than a million people in Calgary alone and many more both upstream and downstream. It’s a tremendous responsibility and the Stampede is continually auditing and looking for ways to minimize its impact on this water source..

McHugh says the Calgary Stampede has two “Stormceptors,” which are underground concrete vaults tied into the storm water system from the main parking lots. They allow the water to flow through, while the sediment and hydrocarbons are collected, and later removed for proper disposal. “The Stormceptors are expensive and not suitable for all locations. We’re currently testing a smaller storm water filtration system prototype unit,” says McHugh.

This prototype fits into existing storm water drainage systems and is made of a  material that traps hydrocarbons and allows water to flow through. If successful, these units could be used at numerous locations throughout the park. There are other more “low tech” actions that help filter what ends up in the river, such as increasing vegetation along the riverbank. McHugh says, “the Stampede is protective of its riverbanks and in its recent River Bank Clean Up, employees collected 4000 pounds waste and 200 pounds of recyclable materials.”

The Stampede is also promoting a more natural approach to bug control, with its new bat and bird boxes along the riverbank. The hope is to extend some of that famous western hospitality to a few more mosquito-munching guests.

McHugh says there is also a longstanding policy against washing vehicles at Stampede Park to prevent soap from seeping into the Elbow River. And company vehicles are being switched to synthetic oils, which increase the mileage between oil changes, generating less waste.

Last year, the Stampede recycled more that 33 tons of cardboard and 7,000 tons of bedding waste. The cardboard is shipped to a plant in British Columbia where it is converted to other products such as drywall paper, and any un-usable waste is burned to generate power. About 98 per cent of the bedding waste is composted and sold in stores as soil additive.

McHugh says the Stampede is works hard to review what goes into the waste stream and to find great allies in suppliers and vendors who support programs wholeheartedly. For example, coffee grounds are being collected from suppliers and vendors and recycled with the bedding waste.

“It’s an easy sell,” he says. “Everyone we’ve talked to wants to do the right thing.”

Through committees such as the River Valley Committee, the Stampede makes valuable connections with stakeholders and is able to work cooperatively on projects that may seem otherwise daunting. McHugh says they are currently working towards ISO14001 certification. This is an international certification program that measures an organization’s environmental performance and commitment.

“As one of the major tributaries of the Bow River, the Elbow River starts in the beautiful Rocky Mountains and flows through many communities downstream,” says McHugh. “This means our neighbors downstream are impacted by our actions and western values demand that we work to support our neighbours.”

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