Join Environment Lethbridge to explore the
Past, Present, & Future
of Lethbridge's natural environment.

Lethbridge has seen many changes to its natural environment over the past 150 years.

Some of these changes have been positive, such as improved environmental management and the establishment of parks and conservation areas.

Others, such as the decline in native fish and wildlife populations have been less so.

Because these changes happen gradually, it is easy to overlook the historic natural state of our environment.

Environment Lethbridge Logo

© 2017 Environment Lethbridge

This project is funded by Alberta Culture and Tourism through the Alberta Canada 150 grant program.


Without water...
Lethbridge would likely not exist as it does today. However, we often have either too much or too little water.

flood at the river bottom, 1908
Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19760212024

I was seven years old when the flood came in 1902. It kept raining and raining until in May it got so high we were all told to get out...I remember Papa telling us as we went through the river to keep our hands in, but I put my hand out and felt the river tugging at it, and I was really frightened...The flood came again six weeks later. Our old house withstood two floods.

- Personal account, Mary Davies Crawford

The Oldman River saw 11 significant floods between 1902 and 2013. In contrast, there have been 35 drought disasters during the same period.

Doughts and wet years between 1402 and 2002

In the river valley, housing was common prior to 1964. The risk to people's lives due to flooding prompted the restriction of housing development.

In Lethbridge, the flooding Oldman River claimed the life of an on-duty police officer on June 8 [1964]. Constable Calvin L. Byam decided to take his chances riding his horse through the rising waters in Indian Battle Park to warn river bottom residents to leave....The 36-year-old's body was later found downstream.

-Lethbridge Herald synopsis of 1964 news.
Flood in lethbridge
Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19971080125

The development of irrigation at the turn of the 20th century changed our relationship with water and made large scale agriculture possible in southern Alberta.

flood irrigation
Flood irrigation was a common way of irrigating crops prior to the adoption of irrigation sprinklers. Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19760203023
parade in lethbridge
Agriculture and irrigation are celebrated during a parade in Lethbridge. Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19760209040

All that is necessary to render this a magnificent agricultural country is water, and water can only be spread over the lands by means of irrigation canals.

- Lethbridge News, 1892

By 1901, three thousand acres in the Magrath area, and six hundred near Lethbridge could be watered….by 1942, 127,000 acres were ready for water.

- Mary B Pharis, 1969

Parks in Lethbridge
were originally envisioned as places for people to recreate and enjoy nature.

Park space in the River Valley
Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19780261004 has appeared to me that the town should endeavour to make an arrangement, by purchase or otherwise, for securing the [river] bottom lying opposite to it...for the purpose of a public park.

-WS Galbraith, Letter to the Editor, Lethbridge Herald, 1905

In many cases, developed landscapes, even in the River Valley, were further enhanced or modified to support public use.

Park crews started removing all old and dangerous trees and underbrush. Playground equipment was purchased and picnic sites developed. In June 1960, 3000 people attended the opening of Indian Battle Park.

-Lethbridge Historical Society
Indian Battle Park
Indian Battle Park. Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P199710802821

The amount of wildlife...
that were present 150 years ago are almost impossible to conceive compared with today.

The skies were filled with falcons, hawks, eagles, larks, ducks, blackbirds, whooping cranes and trumpeter swans.

-Civilizing the West, Den Otter

We cannot possibly appreciate today the vast number of wild fowl that came northward from the far south at the very earliest opportunity in the spring and would only leave the country with the approach of winter. In autumn the lakes would be literally covered with duck and geese.

-CA Magrath recalling ~1878-1884

If moderate drought conditions of the last year continue...hundreds of sloughs and potholes will be dry, and there will be fewer places for waterfowl to nest...Unless heavy spring rains change the situation, nesting of ducks and geese in Alberta could be reduced.

-Lethbridge Herald, 1959
a hunter holds up a fox carcass
Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19961009052

Our historic management of species, populations and habitats favoured good species, such as fish and game, over bad ones like predators and nuisance animals.

The poison, trap and gun used in beating back a rabies epidemic in Alberta took a toll in wildlife that would do justice to an atomic enslaught...the toll included 120,000 coyotes, 55,000 foxes, 5,000 wolves, 3,900 bears and 59 cougars.

-Lethbridge Herald, 1955
Hunters display their catch
Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19753812040

The Nuisance grounds...
were established at the turn of the 20th century, taking waste away from our streets and neighbourhoods, and dumping it in the coulees.

Lethbridge News

Despite the new disposal site, Mother Nature often conspired to return garbage to our streets.

...scraps of paper are blown from the nuisance ground and scattered along the streets, giving the city a most slatternly appearance.

-Lethbridge Herald, 1906
garabage caught on a fence
Photo credit: Galt Museum & Archives P199710803652
The nuisance grounds
Photo credit: Galt Museum & Archives P199710804829

Many Lethbridgians were less than impressed with the City's waste management.

The nuisance ground well bears out its name...The stench that comes from the east some days is enough to make a strong man faint. The council should look into this matter at once and have the nuisance ground removed to a place where it will not annoy citizens in the central part of the city.

-Lethbridge Herald, 1907

Why is it that on windy days so much paper and rubbish are blown on to the streets from the west side of the city? Is the garbage dumped in the coulee at the west end burned immediately or is it thrown carelessley about so that the wind can pick up loose material like paper and carry it back into the city?

-Lethbridge Herald, 1926

Coal mining...
was the industry that established Lethbridge as a city.

Nicholas Sheran Mine, 1881
Nicholas Sheran Mine, 1881. Photo Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19640462000

Prairie coal was the power for a great agricultural future: it would warm the homes of pioneers and stoke the engines of transcontinental trains.

Clearly, a coal-mine straddling the transcontinental, supplying a growing energetic population, would be a safe and extremely lucrative investment.

-AA Den Otter, Civilizing the West

By providing energy for export and for local industries such as agriculture, coal was the economic engine for Lethbridge.

ARICC Mine, 1883
ARICC Mine, 1883. Photo Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19811011014

Growing food...
for personal use was less of a choice than a necessity for many.

Urban Gardan
Photo Credit: Galt Museum & Archives P19752315057
Ad in the paper encouraging people to grow their own Vegetables
Ad from the Lethbridge Herald

High food costs are a problem for everyone and more Lethbridge residents each spring are attempting to get around the dilemma by digging up their back yards and growing their own vegetables.

-Lethbridge Herald, May 11 1974

Most people grew their own vegetables and baked their own bread simply because such commodities were not readily available in stores.

-Civilizing the West, Den Otter

Water levels have dropped...
by 57% in the Oldman River since 1912 and currently, 83% of our water resources are allocated for irrigation. Impacts from climate change are expected to increase drought conditions in southern Alberta.

Irrigation continues to be important for agriculture in southern Alberta and is the primary use of water in our region.

Worst affected is the South Saskatchewan River, where summer flows have been reduced by 84% since the early 20th century

- Schindler and Donahue, 2006
pivot irrigation on a crop field
Photo Credit: Jayme Cabrera Lopez/Oldman Watershed Council
Water pipes in the St Mary's Irrigation District
Photo Credit: Oldman Watershed Council

The St Mary's Irrigation District is the largest irrigation district in Canada. Water is transported throughout the region using a series of canals and pipes such as the one above.

Lethbridge Water Allocations

  • Irrigation
  • Stockwater
  • Commercial
  • Municipal
  • Other
water allocation chart

Lethbridge has more...
park space per person than many other Canadian cities. In addition to providing places for people to enjoy nature, our parks provide habitat for many wildlife species.

Parks Per Capita

Parks per Capita
From the State of the Environment 2017
The Oldman River Valley
Photo Credit: Mel Lefevre/Environment Lethbridge.

The Oldman River Valley is a key component of Lethbridge’s parks system.

One of the biggest things we heard from the community is that they wanted to balance recreation and protection... they want to be in the river valley, but they also want to protect it, understanding that you can’t have nature-based recreation without nature.

-Ryan Carriere, City Parks Planning Manager

There are 44 species...
of plants or wildlife in Lethbridge that are considered endangered or threatened.

Species at Risk in Lethbridge

3Reptiles & Amphibians
Sage Grouse
Photo credit: Jeannie Stafford, USFWS

Some, such as the Greater Sage Grouse have suffered from over-hunting and habitat loss.

Just a few years ago, in the absence of any meaningful protection from the provincial and the federal governments, it seemed inevitable that these birds would go extinct in Canada, but now we have reason to hope."

-Cliff Wallis, Alberta Wilderness Association

Others, such as badgers and rattlesnakes, were persecuted because of their potential negative impacts on people.

Photo credit: Lethbridge News Now

Here in Lethbridge for about the past 100 years, the protocol for somebody if they ran into a rattlesnake, was to kill a rattlesnake. The idea that a good snake was a dead snake. I try to advocate how we can develop better relationships with them.

-Ryan Heavy Head, "The Snake Man"

We no longer dump...
our garbage in the coulees. But we still struggle with the best way to manage our waste.

Waste Per Capita

Waste Per Capita

As you can see, Lethbridge generates more waste than any city in Canada.

Lethbridge currently collects residential recycling at three collection depots around the city.

Recycling collection depot
Photo Credit: Mel Lefebvre/Environment Lethbridge

We know we can and should do a better job of diverting waste in Lethbridge. That's why it was such a huge accomplishment and step in the right direction for our Council to approve a residential curbside recycling program.

-Mayor Spearman, Dec 2016 Mayor's Column
glass piled inside a recycling collection bin
Photo Credit: Mel Lefebvre/Environment Lethbridge

Potential for solar energy...
in Lethbridge matches or exceeds our early potential for coal. But unlike coal, solar energy will never run out.

Calgary and southern Alberta are the sunniest places in Canada. By comparison to Germany, our solar resource is 40 per cent better.

- John Rilett, Enmax. Globe & Mail Dec 4, 2015
solar panels on a residential home
Photo credit: Solar Optix Energy Services Ltd

Yearly Photovoltaic Potential

Yearly Photovoltaic Potential
Map source: Government of Canada

Lethbridge has some of the best potential for solar energy in Canada.


Concerns over pesticides...
are increasing and more people are choosing to grow or purchase local food.

Community gardens provide opportunities for anyone to grow their own vegetables. Lethbridge currently has 8 community gardens throughout the city.

Community garden
Photo Credit: Jennifer Tarnowsky
Josh Helliwell
Urban farmer Josh Helliwell discusses his model for urban agriculture.

The idea behind authentic food is that you have the shortest distance between the farmer and the consumer, the shortest distance from where the seed is grown to the farmer. All of the food is grown with the intention of providing excellent food that improves human health.

-Josh Hellawell, Synergy Permaculture

We have the opportunity to help shape our relationship with the environment. Here we look to you, the community, to express your hopes, goals, and fears for Lethbridge's environmental future.

water in the present

Water scarcity...
will be an increasing challenge in the future as a result of climate change.


If droughts in the future become more common, what new laws or policies will we need to manage our water by 2050?

though asking the community to reduce daily water use is important, I think looking at modern agriculture opportunities that use land and water resources more efficiently is key. exploring how aquaculture can be used to produce higher volumes of food in a smaller space with recycled water is one such way.

- Paige

Watering your lawn will be illegal!

- Francis

Increased regulation of non-essential water use (e.g. car washing, water balloon fights, beer production)

- Roy P.

Licences to use water for irrigating water-greedy crops and turf will need to be reduced to ensure there is sufficient water for residential, commercial and industrial uses and for maintaining the health of our rivers.

- Cheryl B

Your turn! Add your own response



water gardens & lawns in morning & evening

Watering during the hottest part of the day increases evaporation. As much as 50% of the water can be lost, never reaching your lawn.

Set a timer to control your watering. Watering more deeply but less often is better for your lawn.


fix household leaks

A single dripping faucet can lose as much as 130 litres of water per year.

Check indoor and outdoor faucets and appliances for leaks. Monitor your water bill for unusual reading and call a repair person promptly if needed.


keep pesticides & fertilizers out of storm drains

Pesticides and fertilizers are not treated and removed from our water. Household chemicals can affect fish and downstream water users.

Never pour chemicals into a storm drain. Avoid over-using chemicals or using them prior to storms in order to reduce run-off. Consider being part of the Yellow Fish Road program to inform your neighbours about storm drains.


install a rain barrel

Water scarcity is expected to be a critical impact of climate change in southern Alberta. Using a rain barrel can help reduce demand on our water supply and water treatment facility.

Most home and garden stores sell pre-assembled rain barrels, or you can follow instructions online to make your own.

parks in the present

Enjoying the landscape...
is a big part of living in Lethbridge.

What does your perfect park look like? Draw a picture of your ideal park of the future and upload it below.

Upload your own image of a park from the future



participate in a weed pull

Invasive plant species are a critical problem in Lethbridge’s natural areas, where they crowd out native species. Invasive species are less likely to provide food and habitat for native wildlife species.

The Helen Schuler Nature Centre coordinates weed pulls every summer. Sign up as an individual or put a group together and adopt an area.


visit one of our local parks

Getting outside and enjoying our local parks is a great way to learn about our species and ecosystems.

Find a park online at or visit the Helen Schuler Nature Centre for interpretive programs and nature activities in the River Valley.


plant a tree

Trees provide shading, especially in urban environments, that can reduce the effects of heating. This can save energy and is good for human health.

Choose a native tree species or a fruit tree for extra benefits. Visit for tips!

wildlife in the present

Vulnerable wildlife populations...
are expected to be negatively impacted by climate change. Those species who have specific habitat requirements or who are already stressed are most likely to suffer.


Which species will be extinct by 2050?

Little Brown Bat2 votes
westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout1 vote
Northern Leopard Frog1 vote
Greater Sage Grouse4 votes
Prairie Rattlesnake4 votes

Choose a species from the list or add your own.



plant a bee friendly garden

Bees are important pollinators for food crops, pollinating up to 70% of our food. Bees populations are declining, in part due to habitat loss.

Identify the plant species that will benefit the bees the most. Visit the Lethbridge Bee Enthusiasts Facebook Page for more info.


keep pesticides & fertilizers out of storm drains

Pesticides and fertilizers are not treated and removed from our water. Household chemicals can affect fish and downstream water users.

Never pour chemicals into a storm drain. Avoid over-using chemicals or using them prior to storms in order to reduce run-off. Consider being part of the Yellow Fish Road program to inform your neighbours about storm drains.

waste in the future

Waste management...
will continue to change as new technology and innovation creates opportunities to resuse resources.

Fill in the blanks...

What will we be able to recycle in the future? How will our daily best-practices change?

In the next 20 years we will be able to recycle everything and nothing will be wasted. New technology will take recycled wood and create hew homes by 3D printing. When shopping, everyone will buy local and only waht they need and stores will no longer encourage wastefulness.

- Tyler

In the next 20 years we will be able to recycle people and pets. New technology will take recycled people and create robots by brain transfer. When shopping, everyone will use credit/debit and bitcoin and stores will no longer take cash.

- Roy P.

In the next 20 years we will be able to recycle everything and packaging laws will reduce the amount of needless waste brought into our community. New technology will take recycled fibres and shredded materials and create new products by reproccessing them into new items using 3D printing technology. When shopping, everyone will focus on quality over quantity and live more consciously as consumpers and stores will no longer push large volumes of poor quality merchandise.

- Paige

In the next 20 years we will be able to recycle pet waste and all pet owners in Lethbridge will properly dispose of pet waste without using plastic bags. New technology will take recycled pet waste and create fertilizer and energy by composting and producing biogas. When shopping, everyone will be in the habit of carrying reusable bags to carry produce and other goods and avoid plastic bags and plastic wrap and stores will no longer carry plastic bags or sell products wrapped in plastic film.

- Cheryl B

Add your own story:

In the next 20 years, we will be able to recycle and . New technology will take recycled and create by . When shopping, everyone will and and stores will no longer .



buy quality items that last longer

When you do need to make a purchase, choose quality products that will last longer over cheaper, more disposable options. Over the long term, these will cost less and create less waste.

Begin by researching products for longevity and durability. Websites like can provide additional resources.


shop with reusable bags

Most plastic bags are used once and then thrown away. Plastic bags can also be difficult to recycle as they can get caught in machinery.

Many retailers sell reusable bags for a low cost. Or, stop by the Environment Lethbridge office and we will give you reusable bags for free.


compost your food waste

Food waste makes up nearly half of the materials that are thrown into our landfill. However, food waste is a valuable resource that could be composted or otherwise used.

To get started, you will need a backyard composter. These can be purchased directly from the City of Lethbridge.

energy in the future

Capture, store, use...
this is the engery paradigm that we are all used to. But what else is possible?


Where will the energy of the future come from? What new technology would you invent to produce energy?

Every time I check my phone for something (probably social media things!), it would generate energy. How? Not sure yet, but I'll get to work on that.

- Leanne

battery storage for all! vastly improving our ability to store and transport energy!

- Paige

We would hook up generators to famous dead people and create crude imitations of their work. When they are spinning in their graves this will generate electricity.

- Roy. P

Those vaporator things like in Star Wars!

- Luke

Add your invention:



install LED lightbulbs

LED light bulbs use 25-80% less energy than incandescent bulbs and can last 3-25 times longer.

LED light bulbs are available at most stores. The Alberta government currently has an incentive program that will replace your existing light bulbs for free.


bike to work

Vehicles are high consumers of energy and produce emissions that contribute to greenhouse gas and air pollution.

Start small. Choose a short route and plan to bike 1-2 times per week to start. Visit for tips to get started.


install solar panels in your home

Installing solar panels is a high impact way to reduce your energy footprint. Generating energy from renewable sources reduces demand on the energy grid and greenhouse gas emissions.

Working with a qualified solar installer is the easiest way to get started with solar. Visit for more info.

food in the future

Our food may change...
given that climate change is expected to change the types of foods we can grow. Places such as California that we currently import our food from, are likely to experience drought.

Where will our food come from in the future? In 20 years, what fruits or vegetables will we be able to grow in Lethbridge that we can’t today?

%271 vote
`)1 vote
"2 votes
Watermelon2 votes
%%27271 vote
'2 votes
\1 vote
')1 vote
Olives1 vote
`2 votes
Lemons2 votes
3 votes
";1 vote
Avocados5 votes
Peaches!4 votes
Figs0 votes
Wine grapes1 vote
`;1 vote
';1 vote
")1 vote

Choose a food type from the list or add your own.


waste bin

compost your food waste

Food waste makes up nearly half of the materials that are thrown into our landfill. However, food waste is a valuable resource that could be composted or otherwise used.

To get started, you will need a backyard composter. These can be purchased directly from the City of Lethbridge.


visit a farmers market

Farmer’s markets are an easy way to access food from local farms and to chat with local farmers.

Lethbridge has three farmer’s market locations each summer, at Exhibition Park, downtown and on the west side. Visit for more info.


plant a bee friendly garden

Bees are important pollinators for food crops, pollinating up to 70% of our food. Bees populations are declining, in part due to habitat loss.

Identify the plant species that will benefit the bees the most. Visit the Lethbridge Bee Enthusiasts Facebook Page for more info.