Oak Bluff West’s commitment to Earth Day is every day

Apr 11, 2024

Earth Day
Qualico Communities understands that a neighbourhood is an organic living thing, which is why Oak Bluff West is thoughtfully designed to incorporate several sustainable features such as seven acres of constructed wetlands and more than five acres of prairie landscape.

Manitoba’s tall grass prairie once spanned over 6,000 square-kilometers but with agriculture and urbanization, that number has been reduced to less than 15 square-kilometers.

Similarly, since the arrival of the first settlers in Canada, up to 70 per cent of the wetlands that once served as storage for excess rain and snow melt in populated areas has been lost. This loss of natural water storage contributes to spring flooding in Manitoba.

The newly constructed wetlands and native plantings in Oak Bluff West, created in partnership with Native Plant Solutions, help to protect the environment for present and future generations.

This approach is part of an emerging land ethic that recognizes the beauty in nature and values the supporting role that sustainable design practices can play in enriching our environment.

Managing storm water and surface run-off

Storm water management is a crucial component of water conservation, watershed health and environmental stewardship. Polluted surface run-off does not pass through a water treatment facility. Rather, when rain water flows and pools, it collects sediment and contaminants while eventually making its way into the groundwater, lakes, rivers and streams within the Lake Winnipeg watershed.

Some common pollutants collected by surface run-off include fertilizer from lawns, fuel from vehicles, detergents, and salt from winter road de-icing. An increase in algal blooms in Lake Winnipeg in recent years has been linked to excess nutrients from both urban and rural sources that enter the lake as run-off.

Creating natural filtration systems

To combat excess water run-off, bio-retention systems have been incorporated into Oak Bluff West. Designed by Native Plant Solutions in conjunction with Qualico Communities’ engineering consultants, these bio-retention systems are constructed either as wetlands or shallow low-lying vegetated areas with moisture-tolerant plants.

These plants are native to Manitoba and provide greater benefits than non-native species because they have evolved to thrive in our specific climate and terrain. Many native species have developed longer root systems to reach deeper ground water in our hot summers and to protect themselves during our harsh winters. An example of this is the Big Bluestem, a type of native grass with roots that grow up to five metres in length!

By lining the edges of bio-retention areas with native grasses and plants, the flow of storm water slows as it runs through the roots and is absorbed by the plants. These extensive root systems filter excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous before they reach our rivers and lakes.

Once these bio-retention systems are established, Native Plant Solutions does numerous inspections each year to ensure that they stay healthy. These areas are then turned over to the Rural Municipality of Macdonald for regular maintenance. However, during this process Native Plant Solutions continues to work closely with the municipality to deliver assessments and to ensure that the program is successful.

Preventing erosion

Erosion prevention is another strength of native grasses. Their large root systems help hold soil in place and prevent erosion from still water, storm water run-off and prairie winds. Over time, a community can lose hundreds of square-feet of land to erosion but by planting these species, we can slow that process.
EarthDay-Less Pestisides

Reducing pesticides and herbicides

As Manitoba’s native plants and grasses have evolved, they have developed abilities to ward-off unfriendly insects and weeds, therefore they require less herbicide and pesticides to stay healthy. Their roots dig deep into the ground allowing them to access water and nutrients found below the root systems of their neighbouring plants which prevents weeds from stealing their resources.

Many public greenspaces can be challenging and costly to maintain. By planting native grasses in Oak Bluff West, we reduce the long-term cost of care in these areas since they require minimal maintenance. Their upkeep entails a controlled burn by the Rural Municipality of Macdonald every five years. This helps to control weeds and allows the grasses to regenerate and different species of plants to bloom.

Providing natural habitats

The native plants and grasses used in Oak Bluff West’s bio-retention systems produce homes for a variety prairie wildlife. The vegetation provides safety for smaller creatures, materials for birds to build nests and hunting grounds for birds of prey. Some animals you may see in these areas include rabbits, foxes and dozens of species of song birds.

Unlike traditional retention ponds, our naturalized wetlands and buffer areas deter critters such as gophers, prairie dogs and geese who prefer open areas with short grass.

Promoting active living

The community of Oak Bluff features a two-acre park and playground that is easily accessible from the Oak Bluff West neighbourhood. A network of limestone trails runs throughout the community giving residents the chance to enjoy a scenic walk or bike ride amidst the open, prairie landscape. These connective pathways also provide easy access to the Oak Bluff Community School.

Trails in Oak Bluff West are constructed with crushed limestone. Unlike traditional surfacing materials like concrete or asphalt, crushed limestone is semi-permeable meaning it allows for better water drainage which prevents water from pooling and reduces run-off erosion.

Traditional surfacing materials like concrete or asphalt, are impervious which means that they don’t allow storm water to drain. This causes water to pool creating conditions where mosquitoes can breed. It also increases water run-off which leads to erosion. Traditional surfacing materials also involve more resources to install, contain petro-carbons and require greater levels of maintenance and replacement. 

Not only do crushed limestone trails provide shock absorption for running and walking but they also reflect less heat, making it cooler for pets to walk on during Manitoba’s hot summer months. Additionally, crushed limestone trails are easier and less expensive to maintain and repair. As the community continues to grow, so will Oak Bluff West’s network of trails.

Staying true to our nature

In unison, Qualico Communities uses these practices in Oak Bluff West to help protect habitats and to create a more sustainable neighbourhood. A reduction in greenhouse gases, erosion and fertilizers lessens pollution, which in turn helps to clean the water entering our rivers and lakes.