Stormwater Use in Alberta. An Interview with Alberta Environment and Parks

A new policy affecting stormwater use and water reuse is on the horizon…

Urban-Systems-Water-GraphicOver the last year, tremendous progress has been made on the provincial stage to develop and define a policy and guidance document for water reuse and stormwater use in Alberta. By the end of 2016, a Draft Water Reuse and Stormwater Use Policy is expected to be available to key stakeholders. Significant research into water reuse and stormwater use has been underway for nearly a decade. Now, Alberta WaterSMART and the Government of Alberta have brought together their long history of water research to develop Alberta’s first policy and guidelines for water reuse and stormwater use.

An interview conducted eariler in the year with Alberta Environmentand Parks (AEP) focused on the stormwater use aspect of the policy.

Brittany Stahl – Water Resources Consultant
Brittany Stahl is a Water Resources Engineer who practices in our Calgary office. As a member of the Bow River Basin Council (BRBC) she recently interviewed Edith Vanderpuye (EV), Director, Water Resource Coordination within the Water Policy Branch and Joey Hurley (JH), Water Policy Advisor, Surface Water Policy within the Water Policy Branch. The interview was first published in the recent edition of ‘Preserving Our Lifeline‘, the Bow River Basin Council newsletter.

Question: What are you hoping for the BRBC stakeholders to take away from this discussion?
EV: The proper management of water is important to Alberta and the GoA, to allow for optimal use of water as we work within the context of population and economic growth and changes due to climate change.

AEP is endeavoring to develop a policy to aid in implementation of stormwater use. Proponents (oil & gas, municipalities, agriculture and municipal development) have shown an interest in the topic of stormwater use. AEP has the large task of determining how to make it work in the existing regulatory framework (policies and governance). There have been reuse and stormwater projects approved, but they have been approved on a one-off basis, not under guidance of a provincial-level policy. Through this project, a policy and a risk-based process will be defined and applied.

Question: How have BRBC stakeholders been engaged in the development of this policy?
EV: AEP engaged with several key stakeholder groups with a “blank slate” and asked about opportunities and barriers to stormwater use, water reuse and water management. The input will help influence how this policy is developed. WPACs and NGOs were engaged during the fall of 2015. Using that data, AEP went through a process to prioritize the expressed needs and used that collected information to identify where AEP can make the most impact from a policy development perspective.

Question: What is AEP’s overall goal in implementing this policy? And what are the expected outcomes?
EV/JH: AEP wants to be able to utilize water in an environmentally conscious way, while also addressing increasing population, development and climate change. This policy will be another tool to address current issues as well as the Alberta Water for Life strategies and goals, and further enable the optimal use of our water resources.

Question: What are AEP’s greatest concerns with the development of this policy?

  1. Producing unfavorable or undesirable environmental outcomes. For example, the Water Act is designed to protect downstream users. AEP wants to ensure we don’t impact downstream users, rivers or lakes in a negative way.
  2. If the policy is unusable or doesn’t address the needs of stakeholders, that is also considered a failure.
  3. This policy may be difficult to manage because its governance and implementation do not entirely lie within AEP’s jurisdiction. Human health, for example, is to be addressed by Alberta Health Services. The decision-making process will have to be clear through the policy development, and the policy itself will provide clarity around the approval process.

Question: Are you looking to policies developed in other countries in the process?
EV/JH: We’ve looked to Australia, where they have water scarcity issues and are progressive in terms of policy and conservation process. Also, AEP has looked to western USA states where they have mountain sources for water, similar populations, and some scarcity concerns. Some of the most relevant and useful strategies influencing Alberta’s development of the Stormwater Use Policy are the riskbased approach in Australia and water matching. We require a high level of treatment for all users at this time in Alberta. If lower quality stormwater collection is proposed, a risk-based approach and a water matching system may allow proponents to find end-users who have the same water quality requirements, so extensive treatment is not necessary. We want to be able to weigh favourable outcomes against risks.

Question: Is there reason to believe the Water Act may need to be updated?
EV/JH: The development of policy shifts will present us with different tools to achieve desired outcomes. It is yet to be determined if revisions to legislation could be a possible way to achieve the outcomes.

Question: What are the potential impacts on existing water licenses?
EV/JH: No impact to existing license holders is projected at this time. However, there may be changes to how licenses are approved and distributed moving forward.

Question: Are there any federal issues or constraints affecting the development of this policy?
EV/JH: Indigenous peoples’ constitutional rights will be upheld. Indigenous communities will be engaged later this calendar year. A parallel engagement process is planned with them.

Question: How does this policy overlap with the Alberta Wetland Policy?
EV/JH: The Alberta Wetland Policy has relied on a system of avoidance and minimization of impacts. If that cannot be achieved, there will be a replacement requirement. Under specific conditions, it may be environmentally beneficial to enable the use of stormwater to help meet the requirements under the Alberta Wetland Policy. AEP is considering this as a potential use of stormwater. In conclusion, this is a “first crack” at a Stormwater Use Policy and as such there is an expectation that it will be ratified over time. Also, the AEP team noted that stormwater use will have some limitations for capture and utilization, such that existing return flows to rivers are not hindered. Through this policy, stormwater is not only managed by necessity, but can be considered a valuable and exploitable resource that is governed responsibly for multiple uses in Alberta.

Thanks to Edith Vanderpuye (AEP), Joey Hurley (AEP) and Kim Sturgess (Alberta WaterSMART) for discussing the high-level functionality of this policy and for providing background information. – Brittany Stahl

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