Overview: Albertans Still Waiting for a Wetlands Policy
Alberta has yet to have a provincial Wetlands Policy. Currently, some Alberta wetlands are protected under an Interim Wetlands Policy that dates back to 1993 which mainly applies to wetlands in central and southern Alberta, where 2/3 of wetlands have been lost from human settlement. Due to increased activity in the North of Alberta, and on public lands in the South, Albertans are still waiting for protection of those wetlands.
Wetlands Benefit Albertans
Wetlands provide substantial ecological services that would cost billions if we had to achieve them through other means. Alberta Environment and Water recognizes that wetlands can help “to reduce soil erosion, retain sediments, absorb nutrients, degrade pesticides, store water to moderate impacts of floods and droughts, and help to moderate climate change.”[i]
A 2011 pilot on ecosystem services provided by Alberta’s wetlands found that:
1) There is not enough evidence to support decisions around avoiding, minimizing and compensating for disturbance of Alberta’s wetlands.
2) There is too little consideration of cumulative effects and long-term consequences of decision making.
3) There is limited ability to communicate the ‘values’ of wetlands.[ii]
Source: Alberta Wilderness Association
Wetlands store and purify supply freshwater
In Alberta, from 2007 to 2009, wetlands east of Calgary were estimated to store approximately 14.3 million cubic metres of water or 39.4 percent of the area’s water storage capacity.[iii] Wetlands can filter out from 80 to 770 kilograms of phosphorus per hectare per year. They can also filter out from 350 to 32,000 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per year.ii Wetlands can treat polluted water by absorbing heavy metals, including crude oil.[iv]
Wetlands are can act as carbon banks
It is estimated that Alberta's peatland-wetland systems store up to 13.75 billion tonnes of carbon.iii More recent estimates indicate that the peatlands on Alberta’s 10 approved oil sands mine sites alone sequester carbon at 5,734 to 7,421 metric tons of carbon per year.[v]
Wetlands support plants and wildlife
Little is known about plants in the freshwater peatlands in the north of Alberta, however, a recent survey indicates at least 101 plant species.[vi] Recent studies suggest 29,500 hectares of irreplaceable peatlands will be destroyed from open pit mining alone.[vii] The total industrial footprint as of 2009 was estimated to be 65,000 hectares, and the loss of northern wetlands will result in the estimated loss of habitat for 24,832 to 146,178 birds. [viii]
Currently Using: 1993 Interim Wetlands Policy
Alberta’s current policy rests on a 1993 Interim Wetlands policy that mitigates and compensates to avoid, minimize, or compensate wetland loss, but only in the "white zone" area of the province, where 64% of slough/marsh wetlands have already been lost.[ix] The white zone is the settled areas of Alberta, including much of Alberta south of Edmonton, Edmonton, just north of Edmonton, and the area around Grande Prairie. The green zone is the unsettled area, primarily northern Alberta and the boreal forest. It is in the green zone where we need a policy.
Source: Alberta Water Council, 2008.
A Wetlands Policy is needed to help protect wetlands in the green zone(see map).
Current Directions for Wetlands
In 2008, the Alberta Water Council identified key recommendations to “maintain wetland area in Alberta such that the ecological, social and economic benefits that wetlands provide are maintained.”[x]Area is a key issue because replacing function is difficult to measure and not very well understood.[xi]
The strong Alberta Water Council consensus from 22 of 24 sectors was also supported by broad public consultations.[xii] One of the two holdouts, the Alberta Chamber of Resources, reported to its members in 2009 that it had lobbied and obtained assurances from the Government of Alberta that the policy would meet its needs.[xiii]
Comparison of Recommendations and 2010 Policy Intent
In October 2010, the Government of Alberta released a Draft Policy Intent for Alberta’s provincial Wetlands Policy. The draft removes several key recommendations from the Alberta Water Council. These critical changes are detailed below.
Alberta Water Council Recommendations (2008)
Draft Policy Intent (2010)
Concept of “no-net-loss”: “The goal of the Alberta Wetland Policy is to maintain wetland area in Alberta such that the ecological, social and economic benefits that wetlands provide are maintained“[xiv]
REMOVED: Replaced with “The policy goal would be to conserve, restore, protect, and manage Alberta’s wetlands to sustain the benefits they provide to the environment, society, and the economy.”[xv]
Mandatory to replace lost wetlands “where avoidance or minimization of wetland loss are not achievable, the objective of compensation will be to replace the area of wetland lost and the associated wetland functions”[xvi]
REMOVED: Replaced with “where avoidance and minimization efforts are not feasible or prove ineffective, compensation is required.”
An entirely new non-replacement option of “education and outreach” is added for compensation.[xvii]
Every Wetland is valuable for the functions it provides over the entire land base.
NEW LIMITED CONCEPT: Requirements to replace wetlands is based on
“Relative wetland value would be assessed based on:
Recognition of carbon and groundwater recharge are missing and it is unclear if this is achievable given the lack of science and on-the-ground knowledge.
[i] Alberta Environment. 2005. Provincial Wetland Restoration/ Compensation Factsheet. http://www3.gov.ab.ca/env/water/reports/Prov_Wetland_Rest_Comp_factsheet.pdf (last accessed April 16, 2012).
[ii] Alberta Environment and Water. 2011. Ecosystem Services Approach Pilot for Wetlands. (Edmonton, Alberta: Government of Alberta) http://www.environment.gov.ab.ca/info/listing.asp?txtsearch=EGS&searchtype=asset&audience=.
[iii] Ibid., p. 7.
[iv] Groudeva VI, Groudev SN, Doycheva AS. Treatment of waters polluted with crude oil and heavy metals by means of a natural wetland. Communications in Agriclture and Applied Biological Sciences. Vol 68 2 Pt A (2003):163-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15296153 (last accessed April 16, 2012). Also see Winde, Frank.
Peatlands as Filters for Polluted Mine Water?—A Case Study from an Uranium-Contaminated Karst System in South Africa
Part II: Examples from Literature and a Conceptual Filter Model. Water Vol. 3 (2011) 323-355; doi:10.3390/w3010323.
[v] Rooney, Rebecca, Suzanne Bayley, and David Schindler. Oil sands mining and reclamation cause massive loss of peatland and stored carbon. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences Vol. 109, no. 13 (2012): 4933-4937.
[vi] Trites, Marsha and Suzanne Bayley. Vegetation communities in continental boreal wetlands along a salinity gradient:
Implications for oil sands mining reclamation. Aquatic Botany Vol. 91 (2009): 27 – 39.
[vii] Rooney et al., 2012; and, Trites, Marsha and Suzanne Bayley. Organic matter accumulation in western boreal saline wetlands: A comparison
of undisturbed and oil sands wetlands. Ecological Engineering Vol. 35 (2009).
[viii] Timoney, Kevin, and Peter Lee. 2009. Does the Alberta Tar Sands Industry Pollute? The Scientific Evidence. The Open Conservation Biology Journal, Vol. 3: p. 71.
[ix] Alberta Environment. 2005. Provincial Wetland Restoration/ Compensation Factsheet. http://www3.gov.ab.ca/env/water/reports/Prov_Wetland_Rest_Comp_factsheet.pdf (last accessed April 18, 2012).
[x] Alberta Water Council. 2008. Recommendations for a New Wetlands Policy. Online version. http://www.albertawatercouncil.ca/Portals/0/pdfs/WPPT%20Policy%20web.pdf p. ii and p. 14.
[xi] Ibid., p.i to iv.
[xii] Alberta Water Council, 2008. What We Heard Report-Wetland Policy Consultation Summary, September 2008, http://www.albertawatercouncil.ca/Portals/0/pdfs/WPPT%20What%20We%20Heard.pdf.
[xiii] Alberta Chambers of Resources. 2009. Practical Action - ACR's Committees at Work, January 30, 2009. Online newsletter. http://acr-alberta.com/FEATUREARTICLES/PracticalActionACRsCommitteesatWork/tabid/186/Default.aspx
[xiv] Alberta Water Council. 2008. Recommendations for a New Wetlands Policy. Online version. http://www.albertawatercouncil.ca/Portals/0/pdfs/WPPT%20Policy%20web.pdf p. ii and p. 14.
[xv] Alberta Environment. 2010. Draft Wetlands Policy Intent. p. 3.
[xvi] Alberta Water Council, 2008: p. 23.
[xvii] Alberta Environment, 2010: p. 5.
[xviii] Alberta Environment, 2010: p. 4.