Albertans, not industry, will pay for lost wetlands — leaked policy document

CALGARY — A leaked draft wetlands policy appears to betray the finding of a consensus of stakeholders invited by Alberta Environment to develop wetlands policy recommendations. "This leaked document seems to reflect the views of a couple of hold outs in the AWC process instead of the broad consensus," says Joe Obad, Water Matters' Interim Executive Director, "It's hard to believe the government would dismiss the Alberta Water Council team that provided strong consensus recommendations for a robust wetlands policy, for a couple of players who were happy to undermine the process."

"If the draft Wetlands Policy that hit the media on Tuesday April 20, 2010 really is the future of wetlands in the province, this critical resource will be further compromised," adds Obad.

Wetlands provide substantial ecological services that would cost billions if we had to achieve them through other means. Wetlands store and purify supply freshwater; act as carbon sinks; and, support plants and wildlife.i 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 It is estimated that Alberta's peatland-wetland systems store up to 13.75 billion tonnes of carbon.iii

In the leaked draft policy, key recommendations to maintain wetlands have been removed, and the language requiring restoration of lost wetlands greatly undermined. Recommendations by the Alberta Water Council (AWC) would keep wetlands for Albertans intact, or would restore them.iv Those recommendations ensured Albertans didn't completely lose the services wetlands provide them. A chart at the end of the release details how AWC recommendations for the wetlands policy have been gutted in the leaked Draft Wetlands Policy.

The strong Alberta Water Council consensus from 22 of 24 sectors was also supported by broad public consultations.v One of the two holdouts, the Alberta Chamber of Resources recently broadcast to its members that it obtained assurances from the government of Alberta that the policy would meet its needsvi — in other words, it would be weakened.

Under the proposed Draft Wetlands Policy, Albertans would also be left responsible for most of the costs to restore wetlands.

Most of the wetlands in northern Alberta are peat lands, the exact loss of which is unknown. From rough estimates, the total footprint of oil sands mining, which is estimated to be 65,040 hectares of which 24,416 hectares are wetlands.vii

"The Alberta government has the opportunity to show leadership here by ensuring the work of the Alberta Water Council's strong consensus on no-net-loss for wetlands and other progressive positions are reflected in its final policy," says Obad, "The leaked document does not reflect this, but government has shown it can correct its course, and we look for them to do so by delivering a final policy based on the consensus of the AWC, not a couple of hold outs."

For further comment contact:

Joe Obad
Interim Executive Director
(403) 585-5826
[email protected]

For comparison: AWC 2008 Recommendations and leaked Draft Policy 2009

Alberta Water Council Recommendations (2008)

Draft Policy (2009)

Concept of No-net-loss

Albertans keep the wetlands they have now, or they are restored: "maintain wetland area in Alberta such that the ecological, social and economic benefits that wetlands provide are maintained"viii


REMOVED: Replaced with "The policy will minimize the loss and degradation of wetlands"ix


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"x (emphasis added)

REMOVED: Replaced with "Where development activities have the potential to impact wetlands, the wetland policy promotes the following courses of action, collectively referred to as mitigation"xi

Replacement of Loss Wetlands see Concept of No-net-loss. And, mitigation of wetland loss through research and securement through a 1 to 1 area replacement ratio.

REMOVED: Mitigation via "research and securement" dollars is no longer strictly accompanied by 1:1 area replacement.

An entirely new non-replacement option of "education and outreach" is added.

Every Wetland is Valuable for the functions it provides over the entire land base.


The value of wetlands depends strongly upon the "abundance" of that type of wetland in a watershed. Thus, if peatlands, (which are a type of wetland) are "abundant" in a watershed, they are valued less.


i. Meghan Beveridge and Danielle Droitsch. 2010. Making the Connection: Water and Land in Alberta. Water Matters. February, 2010, p. 12.

ii. Wilson, Sara. 2008. Ontario's Wealth, Canada's Future: Appreciating the Value of the Greenbelt's Eco-Services. David Suzuki Foundation. Vancouver, page 31.

iii. S. Wilson et al., September, 2001, p. 3.

iv. Alberta Water Council, 2008. Recommendations for a New Wetland Policy, September 2008, [PDF] (accessed April 19, 2010).

v. Alberta Water Council, 2008. What We Heard Report-Wetland Policy Consultation Summary, September 2008, [PDF] (accessed April 19, 2010).

vi. Alberta Chambers of Resources. 2009. Practical Action - ACR's Committees at Work, January 30, 2009. Online newsletter.

vii. Timoney, Kevin and Peter Lee, "Does the Alberta tar sands industry pollute? The scientific evidence", Open Conservation Biology Journal, Vol. 3, 65-81, 2009.

viii. Alberta Water Council. 2008. Recommendations for a New Wetlands Policy. Online version. (Accessed April 13, 2010) p. ii and p. 14.

ix. Government of Alberta. 2009. Draft Alberta Wetland Policy, p.1.

x. Alberta Water Council. 2008. Recommendations for a New Wetlands Policy. Online version. (Accessed April 13, 2010) p. 7.

xi. Government of Alberta. 2009. Draft Alberta Wetland Policy, p.16.