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Theme 3: Changing Natural Environments

There are many approaches to accessing and managing the cumulative effects of land and resource management on water values. One popular method is a watershed scale assessment of current and future cumulative effects, often called Cumulative Effects Assessments (CEA). To be effective CEAs need to be tailored to dominant watershed processes, social values, pressures and legislative/policy frameworks. Alberta is currently developing policy and methodology for assessing and managing cumulative effects on many values, including water and watershed values. Over the next four to five years, the Water Program will develop CEA for many of the natural regions of the province (e.g. Eastern Slopes, Foothills, and Boreal) and test these CEA with implementable examples for each region. The intent is to build on the FRI strengths to exploit an existing gap, and growing stakeholder concern, associated with land, resource management and natural impacts to watershed values.

The CEA will not set indicators and thresholds on development, but use the CEA framework philosophy of identifying threats to Alberta’s water values to help guide current watershed improvement efforts and Best Management Practices. The goal is to proactively develop a procedure that will inform decision makers about options to improve the management of resources and water values. This is similar to other established procedures  [e.g. Washington Forest Practices Board, 2011] that are specifically designed to protect watershed values while guiding industrial and recreational activities.

The methods will use watershed process knowledge to develop regionalized risk-based pressure and state indicators. First, an office based “rapid assessment” will identify potential location-based sensitivities, threats and risks to values as defined by Water for Life. Then a field-based “detailed assessment” will focus on these locations and develop implementable recommendations to mitigate risks – a component often missing from CEAs completed in Alberta. The outcome will be a set of recommendations, nested within existing policy and management frameworks, designed to reduce environmental footprint, enhance stewardship, enhance efficiency of government and industries, and ensure sustainability.

Developing effective partnerships with Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPAC) and researchers is key to the success of this project. WPACs are needed to help identify priority areas and watershed values, and then develop and deliver assessment procedures back to stakeholders. WPACs are multi-stakeholder groups (including government and industry) mandated by Water for Life to develop Watershed Management Plans. We will work closely with other agencies represented in the Activity Team to ensure the procedures are transferable and complement existing and future work on similar initiatives.

In 2012-2014 we developed the rapid assessment example for the Eastern Slopes region in partnership with the Oldman Watershed Council and Government. In 2013 the government hired a forest hydrologist to refine and implement assessment for the South Saskatchewan Region forested areas. The water program continues to work closely with the government in the region. 2014 and forward we look to the Athabasca Watershed (Foothills) and Peace Watershed (Boreal) as the next regions.

The research objectives are to:

  1. Determine if dominant watershed processes can be identified for natural regions of Alberta for management purposes.
  2. Assess if Cumulative Effects Assessment Procedures can be modified to capture the dominant watershed processes in Alberta.
  3. Assess if Cumulative Effects Assessment Procedures can be modified to help manage social, environmental and economic values and pressures.
  4. Determine and prioritize watershed process knowledge and data gaps needed to support Cumulative Effects Assessment Procedures.

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