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The South Saskatchewan River West sub-watershed extends from where the South Saskatchewan River begins at Grand Forks, at the confluence of the Bow and Oldman Rivers, to Redcliff in the northeast and Chin Coulee to the south. This primarily rural, agricultural sub-watershed stretches across Cypress County, the County of Forty Mile No.8 and the MD of Taber, and includes the towns of Bow Island and Redcliff, as well as the hamlets of Grassy Lake and Burdett.
This region is recognized as having the province’s best climate. It has long warm summers with the longest frost-free period and the most sunlight hours, and short winters punctuated by warm chinook winds.
While there is some dryland farming, highly productive irrigated agriculture dominates this semi-arid region and a network of reservoirs and irrigation canals supply water for agricultural, domestic, commercial and recreational use. Irrigation infrastructure also provides valuable bird and wildlife habitat. The St. Mary River Irrigation District controls several lakes and off stream reservoirs within the sub-basin including: Yellow Lake, Sherburne (Grassy Lake) Reservoir, Forty Mile Coulee, and Sauder Reservoir (Rattlesnake Lake), a very popular fishing and camping spot.
In another nod to the value of agriculture in this region, the Bow Island provincial grazing reserve covers just over 14,000 hectares of flat, gently rolling grasslands in this sub-watershed.
Formed in 1965, it was originally part of Alberta Agriculture’s irrigation settlement program but the grazing reserve also provides a number of recreational opportunities. The uplands are used for hunting and the riverside forests and river are used for hunting, fishing and canoeing.
The South Saskatchewan River – West sub-watershed reflects the most monitored region of all the six SEAWA sub-watersheds, and is the most immediately impacted by the upstream conditions from the Bow River and Oldman River.
Water quantity (River Flow Quantity Index) and water quality (River Water Quality Index) are monitored and measured by Alberta Environment – on the South Saskatchewan River, upstream of Medicine Hat. At this location, Alberta Environment also monitors a variety of individual water quality parameters such as Phosphorus, Nitrogen, E.coli, Total Dissolved Solids, among others.