Southern Alberta WPAC Project Completed

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Review of the Implementation of the Approved Water Management Plan for the South Saskatchewan River Basin
Andrea Czarnecki, Publications Editor
Bow River Basin Council
andreacz@shaw.ca

 

The past year has been an unusually busy one for the Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) in southern Alberta.  

Beginning in the fall of 2017, WPACs from the Bow, Oldman, Red Deer and South Saskatchewan sub-basins joined forces to review the implementation of the approved 2006 Water Management Plan for the South Saskatchewan River Basin (the Plan).  Working collaboratively through multi-sectoral Basin Advisory Committees (BACs), the WPACs reviewed the Plan’s recommendations, including the implementation of water allocation transfers, Water Conservation Objectives (WCOs), and water management strategies.  No small undertaking!  But true to form, WPACs rose to the challenge and, this past November, finalized the project report for submission to the Government of Alberta.

This project resulted in two important outcomes: first, it generated a comprehensive discussion and a fuller understanding of the successes that have been achieved through the Plan’s implementation to date; and second, it brought significant players in Alberta’s water management regime together to build relationships and capacity for future initiatives in the basin.  This article summarizes a few key aspects around these outcomes.

For many BAC members, this project was a full circle exercise.  Having served on the original BACs that helped prepare the Plan over 10 years ago, these members brought not only their expertise and experience to the table, but also their organizational memory of the Plan’s context and intent.  This brought a rich dialogue to the fore, with all members sharing, learning, debating and deliberating.  

The BACs began their review by considering a series of questions relating to the Plan’s recommendations, starting with whether or not the recommendations had, in fact, been implemented (they found that yes, they had).  The BACs then moved on to more substantive and complex questions, including:

• How have trends in water allocation and/or use changed in the years before and since the Plan’s implementation?
• What are the number and volume of water allocation transfers in each sub-basin since 2007?  Is the application process transparent and consistent?
• Is there evidence that WCOs are helping to protect the aquatic environment?
• Are the Matters and Factors tables in the Plan useful in guiding decision making?

All available data, provided by Alberta Environment and Parks and analyzed by WaterSMART Solutions, informed the discussions.  Existing reports were also collected and provided an overview of water management strategies in the South Saskatchewan River Basin.  As such, no new research was undertaken to complete this review and, not surprisingly, data gaps and information requirements soon revealed themselves.  These gaps and requirements were noted and formed part of the report’s findings.

As the BACs discussed the Plan’s more substantive and complex aspects, two emerging themes became apparent, namely, the need for improving aquatic and riparian health through watershed management; and the need to measure, monitor and manage the watershed as an integrated system.  In the report, the BACs summarized these themes in terms of challenges and opportunities (shown below).

The report concluded with suggestions for next steps, including: moving forward on previously identified initiatives (e.g., the Bow River Watershed Conservation Priority Mapping Project), supporting and/or revitalizing existing advisory groups (e.g., the Interbasin Water Coordinating Committee), and holding a joint WPAC-government workshop to prioritize opportunities to improve aquatic and riparian health.  

Alongside these next steps, and perhaps equally important, the project generated momentum between the WPACs and the Government of Alberta; it moved all partners forward in a constructive relationship of information sharing, critical analysis and the advancement of common goals and ideas.  In fact, this kind of relationship is what was envisioned in the Water for Life Strategy and its supporting framework, Enabling Partnerships.  Giving traction to this vision, the SSRB Review project stands as an example of what is possible when there is genuine commitment from all partners to a collaborative process.

Key principles of this process (e.g., respect, inclusiveness, responsiveness, transparency, flexibility) were underpinned by a well-earned trust in the abilities and capacities of each partner to deliver on their specific roles. As the Plan delegates responsibility for future reviews to WPACs (section 3.3), this project was initiated cooperatively by the four WPACs in the basin. By providing project funding and management, as well as facilitating the process and preparing the final report, the WPACs took on both leadership and ownership roles.  Also, full participation from government staff demonstrated their recognition of the project’s value, legitimacy and timeliness.  With this high level of trust and reciprocal reliance, watershed management in Alberta becomes as efficient, integrated, informed, effective and mutually reassuring as it can be.

All of the WPACs and BAC members involved in this review would like to take this opportunity to express their appreciation for the participation of Government of Alberta staff.  The process has been at once illuminating, energizing, productive and very worthwhile.  We look forward to the next!
For more information, contact Mike Murray at mike.murray@calgary.ca.  The final report and appendices are available online at https://brbc.ab.ca/.
 

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