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Protecting Alberta’s water quality (video)

Provincial Press Release June 22, 2021 @ 12:13 pm published 12:40 pm

Alberta’s government is taking action to ensure Albertans continue to have access to abundant supplies of clean water while protecting the province’s aquatic species.

The government wants to hear from the public and Indigenous Peoples regarding new surface water quality management frameworks for the North Saskatchewan, Battle and Upper Athabasca rivers. The engagements will look to address pressures on water resources due to population growth and other development. The government is also launching a selenium management review to ensure water quality remains protected now and in the future.

“Alberta has a long history of responsibly managing our water resources to ensure healthy, clean and safe water for our communities, the environment and the economy. We have heard from Albertans regarding their concerns about selenium, particularly the need for the province’s industries to do their part to manage the mineral. Together, the surface water quality management frameworks and selenium management review will help ensure appropriate water quality objectives, monitoring and management responses are in place to maintain the health of our rivers.” Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

To help inform the development of surface water quality management frameworks, the government is releasing a recent report into water quality upstream and downstream of active and inactive mining operations in the McLeod River watershed between 2005 and 2016. While the McLeod report shows selenium levels immediately downstream of reclamation activities are decreasing, the findings also demonstrate why Alberta must maintain and improve monitoring and regulatory processes to protect its water.

“Alberta’s aquatic ecosystems, including rivers, lakes and wetlands, are foundational to the well-being of people and wildlife in this province. Implementation of robust, science-based surface water quality management frameworks can help ensure the many ecosystem services they provide are realized over the long term. Ducks Unlimited Canada is pleased to learn of the new frameworks and looks forward to next steps in this important conversation with Albertans and Indigenous Peoples.” Thorsten Hebben, manager, Provincial Operations, Alberta Ducks Unlimited Canada

“All Albertans value water and with this recognition, the province is taking steps to manage water quality through a multi-stakeholder framework approach. As most of Alberta’s industrial activity takes place in rural areas, the RMA supports this as a positive step intended to support continual improvements to protect Alberta’s environmental landscape moving forward. It is by active management and not just monitoring that this valuable resource can be protected.” Paul McLauchlin, president, Rural Municipalities of Alberta

“An efficient, predictable and streamlined regulatory process is a key element in attracting value-add investments to Alberta. A water quality management framework for the North Saskatchewan watershed reinforces Alberta’s Industrial Heartland region as an attractive jurisdiction to do business.” Mark Plamondon, executive director, Alberta Industrial Heartland Association

Water quality management frameworks establish clear regional objectives for water quality. They include thresholds that require a management response when exceeded to ensure our rivers can support water needs for communities, aquatic habitat and a vibrant economy. Similar frameworks are already in place to monitor and manage long-term, cumulative changes in water quality in the lower Athabasca, Bow, South Saskatchewan, Oldman and Milk rivers.

The selenium management review will examine current requirements within the regulatory lifecycle of coal projects, with the aim to identify any findings that could pose a threat to water quality. The management review will be led by Environment and Parks, with support from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). The review will also examine relevant policy tools used in comparable jurisdictions and how they might be applied in Alberta.

The government is also anticipating the release of the Alberta Water Council’s Water For Life Implementation Plan Review report in the coming days. The report will detail the progress Alberta has made in implementing the Water For Life strategy’s goals to ensure a safe and secure drinking water supply, healthy aquatic ecosystems and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.

Quick facts

  • Engagement on the North Saskatchewan Region and upper Athabasca Region water quality management frameworks will run until Sept. 17.

  • The surface water quality management framework for the North Saskatchewan River builds on the Water Management Framework for the Industrial Heartland and Capital Region, which has been in effect since 2008.

  • The selenium management review will cover the full regulatory lifecycle of a project from application, construction and operation to decommissioning and reclamation.

  • The scope of the selenium management review will include:

    • Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) approval conditions relating to selenium.

    • Selenium management plans developed by mining operations.

    • Best management practices in Alberta and comparable jurisdictions.

    • Compliance or enforcement procedures for the construction, operation and reclamation of mines.

  • The coal mining sites mentioned in the McLeod report are no longer active. All three mines in the McLeod River watershed are now in either the decommissioning or reclamation phase.

  • Environment and Parks is now monitoring water quality at 115 provincial sites across Alberta. This network includes the recent addition of a Tributary Monitoring Network in the North Saskatchewan River watershed, operated in partnership with EPCOR, the City of Edmonton and the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance.


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