+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 12-10F

Department of Fisheries And Oceans (DFO) Role in Bridge Culvert Replacement

January 1, 2010
Expiry Date:
November 30, 2013
Active Status:
MD of Big Lakes
4 - Northern
Transportation and Infrastructure
Intent Not Met
Vote Results:

WHEREAS the Fisheries Act provides for the protection of fish and fish habitat; and

WHEREAS no one may carry out any work in or near Canadian waters that prevents fish passage, results in fish mortality or results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat without authorization from Fisheries and Oceans Canada; and

WHEREAS bridge culvert installations, replacements and rehabilitations are necessary for the infrastructure renewal and traffic safety for Alberta municipalities; and

WHEREAS plans for such bridge culvert works include measures to mitigate environmental impact based upon designs and reports prepared on the municipality’s behalf by qualified engineers and biologists; and

WHEREAS bridge culvert works are still perceived by DFO as a HADD for which habitat compensation is required at a ratio to be determined by DFO after a prolonged process;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) urge the Federal Government to require DFO to work in a more timely fashion when reviewing municipal bridge culvert work proposals and in a more cooperative manner that respects the professional plans and studies meant for the site specific conditions of each bridge file crossing location; and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC request DFO provide 75% funding for the additional mitigation and compensation measures that they stipulate for replacements or rehabilitations to existing crossing locations.

Member Background:

There are approximately 9,500 bridge structures under the care of Alberta municipalities and a great many of these require replacement or major rehabilitation.  A significant proportion of these works involve the replacement of culverts or the replacement of small bridges with culverts for economical and driver safety benefits.  While provincial funding is often available for some components of the work, municipalities cover the full cost of environmental measures. These costs have been rising steadily in recent years due in large part to the “recommendations” from DFO in their letters of advice and in the DFO requirements imposed as part of their “authorizations” under subsection 35 of the Fisheries Act.  Additional costs include biological studies, added engineering and construction components for mitigation, over-sizing of culverts, and habitat compensation at ratios greater than the disturbed area.

While municipalities recognize and support the need for environmental protection, and specifically the protection of fish habitat, in many cases DFO does not appear to respect the professionally prepared proposals of the municipality’s consultants or give sufficient regard to site specific conditions and relative scientific data.  Examples include:
• Demanding an Application for Authorization in cases where reports from a Qualified Aquatic Environmental Specialist (QAES) indicate little or no evidence of fish presence
• No recognition that large culverts set into the streambed to a depth of one quarter their diameter will provide a channel bottom similar to the adjacent channel
• No recognition that flow velocities at the base or sides of a culvert are much slower than the nominal average velocity and therefore less disruptive to fish passage than assumed

Not only are the monetary implications of DFO’s actions of concern to municipalities but the delays to projects can be extremely troublesome, particularly in cases where the existing structure is failing.  In some cases DFO makes it clear that the Fisheries Act authorization process can take months to complete due to a 15 day waiting period, First Nations Consultation, preparation of compensation options, review of the compensation options and negotiation of compensation ratio.

RMA Background:

The AAMDC has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.

Government Response:

International and Intergovernmental Relations:
Alberta is strongly committed to protecting our environment and protecting our fish and water resources.  We will continue to call on the federal government to modernize the federal Fisheries Act and improve efficiencies by eliminating any unnecessary delays.

Contact:   Daryl Hanak, Executive Director, Trade Policy, 780-422-1339


In a february 17, 2011 letter, the DFO responded stating the they have developed a range of management tools to streamline the review process of lower-risk proposals and reduce the time required for regulatory review. The DFO has also created the Proponent’s Guide to Information Requirements for Review Under the Fish Habitat Protection Provisions of the Fisheries Act. This guide outlines the information required by the department to review a project proposal and promote dialogue between proponents and the DFO.


The AAMDC finds the response to this resolution to be unsatisfactory as there is no indication that the Government of Canada would be willing to become financially responsible for additional measures required on existing structures.  However, it is also of note that the DFO has begun to make an effort to work towards the first portion of the resolution. Efforts to streamline lower risk proposals, increase communication with Alberta DFO staff and guides to assist in the application process are all ways that the approval process may happen in more reasonable time-frames in to the future. 

Provincial Ministries:
Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Relations
Federal Ministries and Bodies:
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Provincial Boards and Organizations:
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