Alberta’s water is a public resource the Government of Alberta must manage for the benefit of present and future generations. Specifically, the 1999 Water Act requires the Minister of Environment and Parks to manage the diversion, allocation, use and conservation of Alberta’s water. It also allows the minister to manage the water supply by using tools such as water management plans and the water allocation transfer market.
The Act requires Albertans who undertake activities that affect water to obtain authorizations from the Department of Environment and Parks before they begin. The department’s responsibility for administering the Act includes making sure that the authorization holders comply with the terms of their authorization.
What we examined
We followed up on four recommendations from our April 20103 report in which we reported on how the department managed its regulatory activities and partnerships under the Water Act. In 2010 we recommended that the department improve:
- the timeliness with which it processes licences and approvals
- how it monitors users’ compliance with the terms of their licences and approvals
- how it controls grants and contracts with watershed planning and advisory councils
- how it monitors agencies that receive funding to restore wetlands
The department has improved some of its systems that support the effective management of activities under the Water Act. With three of the four recommendations implemented, the department’s systems are now more reliable and robust. This is encouraging; however, we found progress in one area to be slow. Five years after our original audit, the department still does not have sufficient monitoring in place to ensure that wetland restoration agencies are in fact restoring the wetland as required.
What we found
The most significant improvements we identified include the department:
- reducing its backlog of Water Act applications and implementing changes to cut processing times
- updating its approach to monitoring licence and approval holders’ compliance with the terms of their authorizations, and developing performance indicators to measure the effectiveness of its compliance assurance program
- improving its controls for watershed planning and advisory council grants and contracts, to ensure the agencies use the funding for the intended purposes
Our follow-up examination of the department’s systems to manage the restoration of Alberta’s wetlands identified a number of weaknesses. Overall, the department lacks effective monitoring to ensure that restoration agencies are meeting their responsibilities. The department does not have signed agreements with all agencies that restore wetlands and does not have sufficient evidence that the agencies are restoring the wetlands as required.
Why this is important to Albertans
In the absence of effective monitoring of wetland losses and restoration, the government cannot know whether it is managing Alberta’s wetlands to sustain the benefits they provide to the environment, society and economy. Efficient and effective application processing and monitoring of approval and licence holder activities, and well managed partnerships will improve the management of Alberta’s water supply.