WHEREAS municipalities share the Government of Alberta’s objective of serving the public good through proper implementation of the Water Act; and
WHEREAS the current timeline for Water Act approvals through Alberta Environment and Parks poses significant financial, environmental, and social challenges for all municipalities; and
WHEREAS improving the Water Act approval process will ensure public dollars are efficiently applied to the protection and stewardship of water systems in Alberta while balancing the need for critical upgrades to public infrastructure; and
WHEREAS Alberta Environment and Parks is undertaking a process and systems review to improve its approval times with constrained financial resources;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request the Government of Alberta to allocate sufficient financial resources to improve and streamline its Water Act approvals process and systems.
Rural municipalities are experiencing significant delays when seeking approvals under the Water Act to proceed with infrastructure improvements. These delays impose significant financial, environmental, and social challenges for all municipalities. For example:
Most rural municipalities can identify unreasonably long approval times that have added additional project costs, delayed upgrades that have impacted its residents’ quality of life, and/or slowed infrastructure upgrades designed to improve environmental performance. In response to these delays Red Deer County has brought forward a resolution focused on improving the approval process for municipalities, while the County of Settler has focused on relaxing the need for formal approvals under the Water Act.
AEP has acknowledged the delays and is working to improve its process and systems. Recently, there have been drastic improvements in response times from the Water Boundaries unit to determine if a waterbody/wetland is Crown claimed. However, an overall process upgrade is necessary to develop digital application systems if performance is to be improved. As AEP seeks to improve its processes, the department is operating in a constrained financial environment. Rural municipalities recognize that approval delays have a multiplier effect and result in financial, social, and environmental impacts to the residents and the province. Therefore, Rocky View County is requesting support for AEP as it seeks to improve its response times.
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 concerns that municipalities and industry have expressed regarding lost opportunities from delays in obtaining timely Water Act approvals. In order to reduce application processing times, AEP made changes to our internal processes to increase efficiency—including shifting resources to help reduce the number of open files.
AEP is seeking a long-term, creative solution to resolve backlogs caused by the very high number of applications received by the department; some of these backlogs are caused by technical or administrative information missing from some of the applications. The government 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. This first phase of this web-based solution, which has been piloted internally, will manage online Water Act approvals, including amendment applications and code of practice notices. The full public release occurred in January 2019. These changes to our approvals process will reduce application backlogs, enhance processing timelines and increase the province’s regulatory competitiveness.
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) continues to modernize its regulatory system. One initiative to support this process is the creation of the Digital Assurance Regulatory System (DARS), which is the technological backbone of the transformed regulatory system. DARS replaces the OneStop system and will be the only system used for submitting and tracking Water Act approvals, applications, amendment applications, and Code of Practice notices. DRAS will 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 DARS is live and will be rolled out in stages throughout 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.
In 2020, AEP developed a draft code of practice on wetland restoration projects to reduce red tape and streamline the regulatory process by restructuring the risk management system by lifting the requirements on minor works orders and focusing on more regulation on high-risk projects. AEP undertook an engagement process through TalkAEP with RMA and other stakeholders 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. From 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 center line 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 has stated that these changes will help improve and streamline the Water Act approval process. Although these changes are new or still in the process of being implemented and the impact of these processes on approval times is unknown, AEP has allocated sufficient financial resources to create processes which are intended to improve approval times. RMA assigns this resolution as Accepted in Principle and will update the status of this resolution once the impact of these processes is known.