What is a Watershed?

(video produced by the Battle River Watershed Alliance)

A watershed is an area of land that catches precipitation and drains into a larger body of water such as a marsh, stream, river or lake. Watersheds can range in size from a few hectares to thousands of square kilometres. Within the complex living system of a watershed, everything is connected. Thinking of a watershed as a giant sponge helps explain the connections between all parts of the watershed. As precipitation falls, it is stored in the watershed’s land and water bodies and slowly released through shallow water discharge into the river.

Like all watersheds, the Red Deer River watershed is connected by three main components: wetlands, riparian buffers and uplands. Wetlands are areas of land (such as marshes, sloughs, muskegs, ponds and potholes) that are saturated with water for all or part of the year. Riparian buffers are the land areas along wetlands, lakes and streams that support plants and animals and protect aquatic ecosystems by filtering out sediments and nutrients. Uplands are all the other areas in the watershed that are not wetlands or riparian buffers. The soil cover (such as natives grasses and trees) in upland areas can help to protect the health of a watershed.

By carefully managing and protecting the Red Deer River watershed, we can all ensure that this important resource remains for future generations.

Ever wonder how rivers and other bodies of water get their shape?


Did You Know?

  • The Red Deer River originates in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park.
  • The Red Deer River flows northeast and then southeast for 724 kilometres and has a mean annual flow rate of 62m3/S. It is almost  wholely contained within Alberta, joining up with the South Saskatchewan River just 8 kilometres across the Saskatchewan border.
  • The Red Deer River is fed primarily by snowmelt and precipitation and minimally by glacial runoff. The Red Deer River is also fed by numerous inflowing tributaries.
  • The Red Deer River watershed includes 13 municipal districts / counties and 50 urban centres (cities, towns, villages and summer villages).
  • In the Red Deer River watershed, water flows over and through mountains, foothills, rangeland, residential land, industrial land, oil and coal deposits, cities, towns, parks, reserves, forests and croplands.
  • Dickson Dam provides Albertans with an assured water supply, improved water quality downstream, flood and erosion control, recreational opportunities and the potential for hydroelectric generation on a limited scale.
  • Flows downstream of the Dickson Dam are actually higher in the winter now, as compared to before the dam was built.
  • For a healthy ecosystem, organisms in and around the Red Deer River require not only good water quality but the right flows at the right time including low flows and floods. (For example, cottonwood trees will not reproduce without floods that recede at a specific rate.)
  • The Gleniffer Reservoir is approximately 11 kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide and provides opportunities for recreation activities such as boating and fishing.

Status of Alberta Wildlife

Here is some information on the general status of Alberta's wild species.

Trees & Plants


Wildlife in the subregions of the Red Deer River Watershed:

Fish Species in Alberta - some of the sport fish species that exist in the Red Deer River Watershed includes walleye, northern pike, brown trout, rainbow trout, yellow perch, goldeye, whitefish and more.

Photos of Red Deer River fish, sourced from Alberta Conservation Association:

Walleye, 8 pound walleye, Quillback release, Cooper Quillback, Sturgeon, Sauger, Pike

Alberta Guide to Fish Management Zones and Regulations

Fishing in Alberta


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