A Lethbridge College applied research project piloted in 2015 and tested in the coulees behind the college has been adopted by planners and land use specialists overseeing more than 100 open-bottomed- or half-culvert crossings around North America.
Enviro Span, which was designed by Environmental Sciences instructor Ron Hammerstedt and two long-time partners in British Columbia, is an environmentally friendly, modular culvert system that can be used in parks, trails and ecologically sensitive areas. It uses strong, lightweight, adaptable materials that can adjust to the shifts and settling of the earth, and it is both long-lived and reusable. Replacing conventional steel arch culverts, these spans protect streams and streambanks and require less time, money, equipment and effort to install.
Hammerstedt and John Derksen, chair of the college’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence, collaborated on the project with the City of Lethbridge and received support from the National Research Council Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Together, Hammerstedt, Derksen, city employees and a group of college students worked to install an Enviro-Span culvert across a creek in the Six-Mile Coulee area, along the southern edge of the city. And as part of the project and with support from NSERC, Digital Communications and Media instructor George Gallant and 12 students created five videos documenting each partner’s perspective of the benefits derived from the project.
It was this unprecedented level of collaboration that helped the Enviro Span project stand out among 2,500 projects submitted to the National Research Council’s senior management team to be featured at a presentation in Ottawa in May to the NRC president and more than 50 managers. “To stand out among thousands of Canadian projects is a real testament to the way our Lethbridge region does applied research,” says Cal Koskowich, an NRC industrial technology advisor. “Getting real systems into daily operation and having this example followed internationally shows our tech leadership.”
The way the spans have held up over time has also been encouraging. “One of our colleagues kayaked the length of Six Mile Coulee during the overland flooding this spring,” says Hammerstedt. “Everything was under water. He got to the flood plain near the Enviro Span crossing, and the Enviro Span stayed perfectly where it was supposed to be.”
"So everyone’s winning, including the cows." - Ron Hammerstedt, Environmental Sciences instructor
Since its launch, Enviro Span has been embraced in communities from British Columbia to Florida. To date, more than 100 companies and communities have installed the culvert crossings, and many of those came to the product thanks to the college’s involvement. “We figured out that about 15 per cent of new spans were directly attributable to the college project,” says Hammerstedt. “It really did serve its purpose as an applied research project, finding a solution to a problem facing industry.” The collaboration continues in other ways. Because of the connections made with the City of Lethbridge, Hammerstedt says they are looking at a new research project focused on wildlife connectivity between parks and greenspaces.
“And one of the best little projects that came out of the research was that Amy Russell, one of the students who had worked on the project, followed up and used it for her senior project,” Hammerstedt says. “She was then invited to present her results to Trout Unlimited at their general meeting, and after seeing it, they and the Nature Conservancy called a distributor and said they wanted to use it to rehab a stream to support West Slope Cutthroat Trout, which are a listed species.”
To get to their pastures, livestock had been walking through little streams and creeks that were home to the trout, ruining the waterways. By installing Enviro Span and adding a bit of fencing, they could cover the waterways and direct cattle to cross there, saving the streams from damage. “They erected it about a year ago and it’s been functioning well and they’re happy with it,” Hammerstedt said. “The cows are too – cows actually don’t like getting their hooves wet, so everyone’s winning, including the cows. But the coolest piece is that a student generated the research and actually got Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy to try it out – and it’s working.”