AEP’s Wetlands Replacement Program restores nearly 160 hectares of wetland in Alberta

Wetlands in Alberta

Several municipalities across Alberta are the stewards of new or restored wetland ecosystems within their communities. Funded through Alberta Environment and Parks’ (AEP) Wetland Replacement Program (WRP), the program provides financial support for wetland restoration and construction initiatives that reverse the trend of wetland loss and ultimately enhance and enrich communities throughout Alberta. To date, the program has funded seven projects across the province equating to $3.7 million, and resulted in the restoration and or construction of 158.23 ha of wetland – truly a significant accomplishment.

Wetlands sustain life in many ways and are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. They are rich with an abundance of diverse plants and animals, are a source of substantial biodiversity and provide a host of important benefits to society such as for fish and wildlife habitats, natural water quality improvement, flood storage, shoreline erosion protection and a myriad of opportunities for tourism, boating, bird watching, nature photography, hunting, fishing and other activities.

They are a vital part of Alberta’s ecological landscape and necessary for a sustainable economy and healthy communities. Protecting wetlands can, in turn, protect our health and safety by reducing flood damage and preserving water quality.

Since the establishment of the province more than 100 years ago, land development, urbanization and settlement has resulted in a significant reduction of wetlands. These natural areas continue to be under direct and indirect pressures from a variety of sources including dredging, draining, and/or filling wetland areas for conversion to agricultural, industrial or residential lands. Thus, careful management and restoration of wetland ecosystems are important tools in reversing those impacts and the resultant loss of ecosystem goods and services.

In Alberta, the province’s wetland policy plays an important part in both recognizing the value of wetlands and retaining them on our landscapes.

In 2019, AEP began the design and development of its Wetland Replacement Program – a program that aims to re-establish wetlands in partnership with Albertans by providing resources for collaborative replacement projects across the province.

Since January 2020, AEP began extensive engagements with municipalities throughout Alberta, alongside Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and to date, through a series of virtual meetings and presentations, they have engaged with over 15 municipalities and DUC on the program.

They have also signed memorandums of understanding to work together with nine municipalities to establish wetland replacement projects – municipalities including the City of Leduc, City of Red Deer, County of Grande Prairie, County of Leduc, Lac La Biche County, Municipal District of Greenview, Parkland County, Strathcona County and Sturgeon County as well as with DUC.

This is how it works. AEP works with participants of the program – any non-profit organization or municipality, to identify potential wetland replacement projects. Once the projects have been assessed and approved, replacement projects are funded by the WRP which can include financial compensation for private landowners hosting wetland replacement projects on their private lands.

Another positive outcome of the program is the impact it has on a range of employment opportunities for Albertans. Private consultants – in the areas of environmental, construction operators, equipment rentals, and vegetation nurseries – can participate in the program through contracts with the municipality, resulting in job creation and community growth.

Having the program operate through AEP provides financial oversight and accountability of the revenues and expenditures of the money collected through the program.

In addition, the WRP also supports Alberta’s Wetland Policy (AWP) priority policy outcomes in the following ways: a) Wetlands and their benefits to the environment and society are conserved and restored in areas where losses have been high. b) Wetlands are managed by avoiding and minimizing negative impacts, and where necessary, by replacing lost wetland value.

Matthew Wilson, wetlands team lead with AEP, attributes much of the success of the program to collaboration, particularly through the high level of participation from DUC and their ability to restore hundreds of hectares of wetlands annually, as well as through the commitment by municipal stakeholders to deliver wetland replacement projects.

“It has been a great experience developing new relationships with municipalities and working with DUC, who has so much experience in wetland restoration. Working together fulfills a policy commitment by AEP that municipalities play a key role in planning and prioritizing wetland restoration and conservation within their jurisdiction. The program delivers on AEP’s Wetland Policy outcomes to restore and replace wetlands in areas of high historical loss and in areas where recent wetland losses could not be avoided,” he says.

The WRP is currently focused on funding projects in wetland restoration and wetland construction.

Wetland restoration can be defined as the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a site with the goal of returning natural / historic functions to a former or degraded wetland. Examples of wetland restoration include, but are not limited to, installing a ditch plug in a drained wetland, or a partially drained wetland or the removal of tile drainage.

Wetland construction is the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a site with the goal of creating a wetland on a site location that was historically non-wetland. This results in a gain of wetland area and function. AEP is also considering the expanding existing wetlands, by broadening the scope of the wetland area into upland areas or deep water sites.

Red Tape Reduction

Other progression in wetland policy includes a new Code of Practice (COP) for Wetland Replacement Works (WRW) that has been approved for Wetland Replacement Projects that meet the requirements of the code.

The new COP will be for low risk restoration and construction activities. For projects that do not qualify for the new COP, proponents will still have to obtain an approval. What this means is that people will be able to get started on the project more quickly, reduce burden on approvals staff and enable AEP to spend the WRP money to get people back to work.

Wetland Replacement Projects

Location: County of Grande Prairie

Number of wetland hectares restored: 0.5 ha

Participants: In association with private landowners

Location: County of Grande Prairie

Number of wetland hectare restoration and construction: 2.0

Participants: In association with private landowners

Wetland benefit: Both projects in Grand Prairie will contribute to better water quality in Saskatoon Lake.

Location: Municipal District of Greenview

Number of wetland hectares of construction: 0.5.

Wetland benefit: This project will address water quality issues in Victor Lake, which is the primary source of drinking water for Grande Cache.

Location: City of Leduc

Number of wetland hectares of construction: 0.38

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to improved water quality in the adjacent Telford Lake and provide additional habitat for wildlife and an educational opportunity for residents as it is adjacent to the city’s existing nature trail that extends around Telford Lake.

The City of Leduc successfully restored 0.38 hectares of wetland at the Telford Lake site. All of the earthwork was completed in November 2020 that included installation of snags and coarse wood debris as habitat features and to create structure. Seeding occurred immediately and the planting of aquatic species will be completed in Spring 2021.

 “We are pleased to have worked with the Province on the wetlands restoration project at Telford Lake,” says City of Leduc Councillor Lars Hansen. “Once complete, it will bring many ecological benefits to the area and provide unique opportunities for community education and engagement among local residents.”

Ducks Unlimited Canada Projects

Willow Creek

Number of wetland hectares restored: 13.74

Location: Municipal District of Willow Creek, in partnership with private landowners

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to increased flood storage protection within the watershed and provide wildlife and waterfowl habitat.  

Silver Sage

Number of wetland hectares restored: 29.39

Location: County of Forty Mile, in partnership with the Alberta Conservation Association (their land).

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to increased flood storage protection within the watershed and provide wildlife and waterfowl habitat.

Lochend Lake

Number of wetland hectares restored: 111.72

Location: Rocky View County, in partnership with private landowners

Wetland benefit: This project will contribute to increased flood storage protection within the watershed and provide wildlife and waterfowl habitat. The project is located within the headwaters of the Big Hills Springs Creek, which then flows into the Bow River System upstream of Calgary.

In 2021, the Wetlands Replacement Program will continue to engage with municipalities and other non-profits to participate in the program and get more projects on the ground!

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