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WHEREAS municipalities share the Government of Alberta’s objective of serving the public good through proper implementation of the Water Act; and
WHEREAS rural municipalities constitute the largest land base in Alberta, and therefore have multiple interactions with Alberta Environment and Parks as they seek Water Act approvals as part of the process to improve infrastructure in their municipalities; and
WHEREAS improving the Water Act approval process will ensure that public dollars are more efficiently applied to the protection and stewardship of water systems in the province while balancing the need for critical upgrades to infrastructure; and
WHEREAS Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) members have previously submitted resolutions requesting Alberta Environment and Parks to reduce the approval timelines associated with Water Act approvals; and
WHEREAS at the Spring 2018 RMA convention, the Minister of Environment and Parks discussed the ongoing review of the Water Act approval process;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta work with Alberta Environment and Parks to provide the rural perspective and input related to streamlining and improving the Water Act approval process.
The Minister and senior officials from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) have recognized the need to streamline and improve the Water Act approval process. At the Spring 2018 Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) convention, Minister Phillips indicated the Ministry is undertaking a review of its approval process.
It is important that rural municipalities provide insight and perspective on the approval process and work with the Ministry to test its systems improvements. Rocky View County proposes that the RMA represents all rural municipalities in this process review. The intent is that the RMA and AEP work together to meet the purpose of the Water Act to “support and promote the conservation and management of water,” while recognizing the impact of approval delay on the financial and social interests of all Albertans.
4-17F: Water Act Approvals for Municipal Projects on Municipal Land
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge the Government of Alberta to relax the requirement for formal approvals on all road construction on municipal right of ways less than 40 metres wide and consider alternate strategies for protecting water resources.
DEVELOPMENT: Though the response from the Government of Alberta recognizes the challenges faced by municipalities who are subject to relatively short construction seasons and extensive infrastructure networks, the response does not indicate any change in process or regulation to the extent outlined in the resolution. This resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met.
1-16F: Alberta Environment and Parks Approvals for Construction Projects
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties requests that consideration be given to safety concerns related to delayed environmental approval processing and supports the creation of a process for municipalities to receive timely approvals from Alberta Environment with regard to construction projects.
DEVELOPMENT: The Government of Alberta response acknowledges the challenges that municipalities are facing in receiving timely approvals of works related to wetlands. The RMA is encouraged that Alberta Environment and Parks has identified this as a problem and is in the process of developing an updated regulatory process for road works impacting wetlands which will balance provincial and municipal needs regarding regulatory compliance and timeliness. The Government of Alberta has indicated that an Alberta Wetland Construction Directive and Alberta Wetland Construction Guide are forthcoming but have been delayed as of April 2018. The RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Principle, and will monitor progress made.
Alberta Environment and Parks
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) recognizes the value of the unique rural perspective that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) has regarding the Water Act approval process and water management in general.
AEP has developed the Environmental Approvals Plan, which will reduce approval times for regulated activities that require approvals through legislation, such as the Water Act, the Public Lands Act and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.
AEP will be introducing system enhancements and a one-window framework that will be effective, efficient and client-focused through a web-based application platform. This plan will be rolled out over three years. AEP welcomes the opportunity to work more closely with the RMA.
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) continues to modernize its regulatory system. One initiative to support this process is the creation of the Digital Regulatory Assurance System (DRAS), which is now the only system used for submitting and tracking Water Act approvals, applications, amendment applications, and Code of Practice notices. DRAS is designed to streamline the approval process by providing clear, upfront expectations to applicants and will be used to manage the entire lifecycle of a project from application to authorization, monitoring and compliance reporting, to remediation and closure. The first stage of DRAS is live and the remaining stages will be rolled out between 2021 to 2023. By mid-2023, all applications will be moved online to the DRAS system supporting all authorization types managed by AEP under the Water Act, Public Lands Act, and Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The RMA is currently working with AEP to share updates on the DRAS system to members through the Contact newsletter.
In 2020, AEP developed a draft code of practice on wetland restoration projects to reduce red tape and streamline the regulatory process. This was informed by an engagement process with stakeholders including RMA and its members to ensure that the draft code will meet the needs of those conducting wetland restorations. From the feedback, AEP has developed a new Water Act Code of Practice for Wetland Replacement Works which will reduce red tape for proponents restoring or constructing wetlands by replacing Water Act approval requirements with a notice process for activities that meet the Code of Practice; thereby eliminating approval wait times.
In January 2020, AEP conducted a survey to gather information from municipalities about municipal road maintenance activities impacting wetlands. Based on the survey feedback, AEP updated the Wetland Assessment and Impact Form (WAIF) to allow low risk activities such as widening, improvements or maintenance of an existing road within a registered road plan right of way or within 15 metres of the centerline of an existing unregistered or private road to require a WAIF rather than a full Wetland Assessment and Impact Report (WAIR). AEP has stated that this change will reduce red tape by allowing more flexible and less costly wetland assessments within a larger project area.
The Minister of Environment and Parks has stated that AEP is open to working with RMA to provide the rural perspective and improving the current Water Act approval process. In the past year, RMA has seen an increase in engagement opportunities with AEP on streamlining and improving the Water Act regulatory approval process. RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted and will continue to provide the rural municipal perspective related to streamlining and improving the Water Act approval process.