The efforts of the Clean Annapolis River Project lead to preservation of the Annapolis River and its watershed in Nova Scotia, Canada, and its designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Les Smith wrote the following brief history of the Annapolis River for the Horizon International Solutions Site based on his experience as a significant member of the team who worked to preserve the Annapolis River and its watershed and helped found the Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP). Smith is an interpreter with Nova Scotia Power at the Annapolis Tidal Generating Station.
The CARP, a charitable, community-based, non-governmental organization incorporated in 1990, works “with communities and organizations to promote awareness about, and to foster the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of the marine and freshwater ecosystems of the Annapolis River Watershed.”
The Annapolis River is an unusual place, as it is a semi tidal estuary, affected by the only tidal power generating plant in North America.
The complete story is more complicated than that.
To understand the Annapolis River and the changes it has seen, you have to go back to the mid 17th century.
When the French colonists returned to the Bay of Fundy, to the region they called LaCadia, they recognized the conditions here were similar to the north coast of the Brittany Peninsula and brought farmers with dyke building technology.
The Rivier Dauphan, as it was called at that time, was dyked all the way to the head of the tide, at Paradise, some 25 miles by river from the site of the settlement of Port Royal.
Those dykes kept the high tides off the marshes and the Acadian farmers soon had the best farmland around. Even after the Deportation of these French-speaking people, generations of farmers maintained the dyke system until the Second World War.
In the 1950s, the thinking of the time led to an old bridge which connected Annapolis Royal with Granville Ferry to be replaced with a causeway.
The Department of Agriculture operated the gates in the causeway to regulate the water level of the river and keep it some 8 feet below the high tide mark in the Annapolis Basin. In this way the old dykes were no longer needed.
The changes to the Annapolis River were drastic.
First the river was changed from a salt-water estuary with an average tide of 25' to a fresh-water lake with no tidal effect at all.
In addition to losing the clams, crabs, flounder, etc. the salt grasses which had grown on the sloping riverbanks were also lost.
This loss, coupled with a static "lake" level, lead to wave generated erosion in the lake between Annapolis Royal and Bridgetown.
In addition, in the '60s the state of sewage treatment in the western Annapolis Valley was typical in that raw sewage was discharged from many locations into the river and the Department of Agriculture would lower the river several feet each spring to expedite building of fences into the river so livestock which accessed the river for drinking water would not stray from their fields.
A Department of Agriculture technician advised me in the early '80s that some summers the gates at Annapolis Royal might not be opened for as much as 6 weeks as the meager flow of the Annapolis River was easily handled through a fish passage in the causeway and by evaporation.
One might speculate on the condition of the river.
In 1980 the Causeway at Annapolis Royal was selected as the site of the Annapolis Tidal Power Test Station.
Installing a tidal turbine at the location meant that the river level would now fluctuate by just over two feet with each tide, as some 800,000 tons of seawater would be sluiced into the head pond then discharged through the turbine.
It is interesting to note some landowners were alarmed by the development and were sure their land would be ruined by the return of the salt water to the estuary.
This proved not to be the case.
The Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) was founded in 1990 to assess the condition of the river.
Teams of volunteers called River Guardians began testing the river bi-weekly for temperature, turbidity, fecal coliform and suspended solids.
Over the years, armed with solid research, CARP managed to work with towns, farmers and householders along the river and its tributaries to introduce up to date sewage treatment facilities, restrict livestock access to the watercourses and eliminate non-functioning septic systems.
The Annapolis River is quite a different place today.
As the CARP website states, “While the group has received considerable recognition for its efforts, the real measure of success is the creation of environmental improvements in the Annapolis watershed.”
CARP attributes its success to partnerships including:
Nearly twenty years of volunteer based water quality monitoring
Participation of 14 farms in GHG reduction projects
Over 20 farm stewardship agreements signed
In 2001, The Annapolis River watershed area was declared part of a biosphere reserve, the UNESCO Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve.
UNESCO writes: “Southwest Nova represents the natural region of southwestern Nova Scotia. This encompasses the five counties: Queens, Shelburne, Yarmouth, Digby and Annapolis.
"The biosphere reserve comprises major landscapes of the province, which exist in a near-pristine condition with intact ecosystem structure, processes and functions.
"Located in the boreal needleleaf forest biogeographical region, it includes rolling plains, river plains, glacial plains, hills, drumlins and coastal cliffs.
"As a result of its unique southerly position in the Maritimes, the region contains significant disjunctive populations of Atlantic coastal Plain plant species, Blandings turtle (Emydoidea blandingi), ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) and southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans).”