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Subregional Planning - Provincial

Comprehensive regional infrastructure sustainability plans

The development of CRISPs is led by the Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat of Alberta Energy. Comprehensive Regional Infrastructure Sustainability Plans (CRISPs) are long term collaborative approaches to planning infrastructure in Alberta’s three oil sands regions. Plans have been completed for the Athabasca Region, Cold Lake Region, and Peace River Region.

Although not specifically aimed at or binding on municipalities, the CRISPs will have a significant impact to the extent that the province implements the capital improvements outlined in each plan. The CRISP for the Athabasca Oil Sands Area for example states:

As a flexible blueprint for future infrastructure and community development, the scope of CRISP includes identifying the need and location for: Transportation (highways, rail, transit, air); Schools, health facilities, and correctional facilities; Water and wastewater treatment facilities; Urban expansion, particularly land release for residential and commercial development; Utilities, including transmission lines (location only, not need); and Pipelines (location only, not need).

Similar statements are made in the other CRISP plans.

Integrated resource management plans

The focus of these plans is on the integrated management of resources located on Crown land. The Alberta Environment and Parks website explains:

Integrated Resource Plans outline the land and resource management intent for a planning area based on a landscape assessment. These assessments:

  • Include the resource, physical and biological characteristics and social values within a planning area.
  • Identify objectives for long-term management of the area to promote responsible use of the land in the future.
  • Describe the type of activities that are compatible with this land and resource management direction. For example, public land may be designated for recreation, grazing, oil and gas, forestry or other uses.

The impact on municipalities is more indirect as these plans may affect economic development of the region.

Watershed and water management plans

Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils - Source Alberta Environment and Parks

A watershed is defined as an area of land where all of the water that drains off of it goes to the same place. In Alberta, watersheds are oriented around our major rivers and lakes. For example, Lake Athabasca is the core of the Athabasca Watershed. All of the rain, snow runoff, and hail that falls in the Athabasca Watershed will eventually drain into the Athabasca River and find its way to Lake Athabasca.

Land use has many impacts on our watersheds, from encroachment of development on riparian areas and wetlands, to creation of impervious surfaces that cause stormwater issues, to environmentally damaging uses that leech contaminants into our groundwater. It is important to combine land use management with watershed management to ensure that both our land and water are protected.

Watershed Management Plans

To help coordinate activities that impact watersheds, eleven Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) have been established.  WPACs are responsible for engaging partners and stakeholders in their basin area, including municipal, provincial, and federal governments, industrial sectors, conservation groups, aboriginal communities, and the public in watershed planning.  The planning process includes the development of recommended actions aimed at the protection, restoration, or maintenance of watershed conditions while supporting the water needs and uses valued by the broad community. However, these plans are not statutory and rely on the buy-in and action of multiple stakeholders for successful implementation.

For more information on watershed management visit AUMA’s Water Management Webpage.

 “Approved” Water Management Plans

In areas where the province is particularly concerned about water quality or quantity it may develop a water management plan. Unlike watershed management plans, water management plans are statutory plans developed under the Water Act and approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The plans must be considered in regulatory decisions made under the Water Act, including the establishment of minimum in-stream flows, conditions on diversions, and strategies for the protection of the aquatic environment. Water management plans often have a significant impact on municipalities and municipal planning.  Information on two such plans are included below and full list of plans is available here.

The South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Management Plan

The South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) Water Management Plan provides a key example of the implementation of a water management plan in Alberta. The first of its kind in the province, the SSRB marked a significant transformation of southern Alberta’s water allocation framework.  

Since signing the Prairie Provinces Water Board Agreement in 1948, Alberta has had to adopt an interregional perspective on water management. This agreement led to developments in water management and the creation of the Master Agreement on Apportionment in 1969, which delineated an apportionment agreement for interregional rivers. Apportionment agreements commit nations, provinces, and states to the amount of water that must flow across borders. The 1969 Master Agreement required that “one-half of the natural flow of water of each...watercourse…flow into the Province of Saskatchewan” (Prairie Provinces Water Board, 1969). Historically, Alberta has allowed people, private companies, and municipalities to purchase water licences. In order to regulate water usage and fulfill apportionment agreements, the province uses a priority allocation water management system where high priority licence holders are given priority access when water is scarce. However, it was not uncommon for more water to be allocated through southern region water licences than was available to meet established apportionment requirement.

In response to increased water demands as well as allocation and apportionment challenges, the Government of Alberta initiated water management planning for the SSRB. On the recommendation of four basin advisory committees, and after consultation with key stakeholders and the public, the province decided not to accept any new water licences for the Bow, Old Man, and South Saskatchewan sub-basins. In 2006, Alberta Environment approved the plan and issued a moratorium on new surface water licence applications in the three sub basins. While the Province will no longer give out new water licences, water allocations can still be secured through transfers, which can be costly. In order to grow, many municipalities in the region must decrease their water use through water conservation or purchase a licence from another user. Some municipalities such as the Town of Okotoks have had to do both. More information on the water allocation system, its impact on municipalities and AUMA’s recommendations to improve the system are available here.

The Battle River Water Management Plan

The Battle River Basin is a watershed in east-central Alberta, which relies entirely on rain, snow melt and groundwater without the benefit of the mountain/foothill snowpacks or glacial melt typical of other watersheds in Alberta.  Maintaining water quantity and quality in this basin is an ongoing challenge because of the natural conditions of the basin combined with the cumulative effects of municipal, industrial and agricultural activities.  Based on extensive input from municipalities and local stakeholders, the Approved Water Management Plan for the Battle River Basin was released in 2014 which:

  • Places limits on the amount of water that can be allocated (or licenced) for various uses including municipal,
  • Enables water allocation to be transferred between users,
  • Sets water conservation objectives that specify a rate of flow in watercourses.