The Government of Alberta is looking for feedback from the public and Indigenous Peoples on the new surface water quality management frameworks for the North Saskatchewan, Battle, and Upper Athabasca rivers.

The engagement will look to address pressures on water resources due to population growth and other development. The government is also launching a selenium management review to ensure water quality remains protected now and in the future.

“Alberta has a long history of responsibly managing our water resources to ensure healthy, clean and safe water for our communities, the environment and the economy,” said Jason Nixon, minister of environment and parks. “We have heard from Albertans regarding their concerns about selenium, particularly the need for the province’s industries to do their part to manage the mineral. Together, the surface water quality management frameworks and selenium management review will help ensure appropriate water quality objectives, monitoring, and management responses are in place to maintain the health of our rivers.”

To help inform the development of surface water quality management frameworks, the government is releasing a recent report into water quality upstream and downstream of active and inactive mining operations in the McLeod River watershed between 2005 and 2016. While the McLeod report shows selenium levels immediately downstream of reclamation activities are decreasing, the findings also demonstrate why Alberta must maintain and improve monitoring and regulatory processes to protect its water.

“Alberta’s aquatic ecosystems, including rivers, lakes and wetlands, are foundational to the well-being of people and wildlife in this province,” said Thorsten Hebben, manager of provincial operations at Alberta Ducks Unlimited Canada. “Implementation of robust, science-based surface water quality management frameworks can help ensure the many ecosystem services they provide are realized over the long term. Ducks Unlimited Canada is pleased to learn of the new frameworks and looks forward to next steps in this important conversation with Albertans and Indigenous Peoples.”

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Water quality management frameworks establish clear regional objectives for water quality. They include thresholds that require a management response when exceeded to ensure our rivers can support water needs for communities, aquatic habitat and a vibrant economy. Similar frameworks are already in place to monitor and manage long-term, cumulative changes in water quality in the lower Athabasca, Bow, South Saskatchewan, Oldman, and Milk rivers.

The selenium management review will examine current requirements within the regulatory lifecycle of coal projects, with the aim to identify any findings that could pose a threat to water quality. The management review will be led by Environment and Parks, with support from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). The review will also examine relevant policy tools used in comparable jurisdictions and how they might be applied in Alberta.

The government is also anticipating the release of the Alberta Water Council’s Water For Life Implementation Plan Review report in the coming days. The report will detail the progress Alberta has made in implementing the Water For Life strategy’s goals to ensure a safe and secure drinking water supply, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.

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