Twenty years ago, the City of Hamilton (previously Township of Flamborough) acquired a parcel of land in Carlisle, Hamilton that previously functioned as an RV park. There were many other options that this land could have been used for including: suburban development, a golf course, and a community centre. But, with the help of voices from the local community who wanted to designate it as a community green space, Courtcliffe Park was established. This park land contains a small woodlot and meadow habitat as well as a one kilometre stretch of Bronte Creek and Mountsberg Creek, a cold-water tributary of Bronte Creek.
For the nature lovers out there, these creeks are extremely important to a group of fishes that can only live in ‘coldwater creeks.’ Coldwater creeks occur naturally across our communities. Cold water is maintained throughout the year by a constant supply of groundwater that keeps the water cold in the summer months and prevents creeks from freezing solid in the winter.
These ecosystems, and the animals that have evolved to live in them, are at risk due to climate change. Air temperatures are warming creek water and flash rainstorm events are decreasing the amount of water that infiltrates into the ground and is available to discharge as groundwater springs. It is key for the success and health of the environment, and our water supply, that we ensure that coldwater creeks can function appropriately, especially in the face of climate change.
For many years this section of Mountsberg Creek had been on Conservation Halton’s restoration priorities list as the previous landowners weakened the integrity of the creek through a series of alterations. For starters, several sections of the creek had been used for swimming and fishing ponds. There were also many undersized creek culverts and a low bridge crossing installed. There was also a stretch of creek that was diverted to a straightened by-pass as a waterfront for the campers. At the time, the changes likely came from little understanding or appreciation for what the ecological impacts would be.
Today with the knowledge of natural stream ecology, we know that those alterations had the following repercussions:
- The man-made ponds created pools and pockets of warm water where cold-water species, such as Brook Trout, could not thrive or reproduce.
- Erosion downstream was aggravated by undersized culverts and a channelized section, that, respectively, concentrated and increased the flow of water.
- There were more floods because the low bridge crossing caused log-jams of debris.
In short, the shape of the creek channel had been so heavily altered that key creek functions had been ineffective for many years. The direct result was that the quality of the water in the Bronte Creek Watershed was poor.
Making a Wetland From Scratch
One major part of the creek restoration at Courtcliffe Park was to create a wetland within the floodplain area. This was particularly important for both water quality and water retention. Much like a sponge retains a liquid; the substrate of vegetation within wetlands is porous. The underlying vegetation absorbs the rainwater, and allows the water to slowly percolate into the ground. The ground water supply is replenished, and reduces flooding during storm events. Groundwater replenishment is not only essential to provide clean drinking water for residential wells but it is also important to provide a year-round source of water to creeks via springs at the creek bottom or creek bank.
Courtcliffe Park & Climate Change
One way that the restoration work in Courtcliffe Park is resilient to the effects of climate change is that the work ensures that Bronte Creek and Mountsberg creek can access their floodplain in severe storm events. If creeks can’t access their floodplains because they are degraded, water can only move downstream, gaining in volume and speed towards our homes, neighbourhoods and roads. Restoring access to the floodplain in Courtcliffe Park means that high waters can move out of the creek into adjacent park lands, which provides added benefits to the natural system by carrying sediment onto the land along with nutrients for plants and clearing gravel in the creek for fish to build their nests and produce offspring.
Restoring Bronte and Mountsberg Creek improves the environment for wildlife, beautifies our natural areas, creates recreational fishing opportunities, preserves natural and cultural heritage and also safeguards us from the effects of climate change. Making our communities better equipped for climate change is actually just making our communities better. In the words of poet Brandon Williamson, “No snowflake in an avalanche feels responsible” But we are all a part of the fallout, so let’s get to work!
Last modified: September 5, 2017