News Brief
February 10, 2014
What Lies Beneath?
Access to Environmental Information in Alberta

It's every homeowner's nightmare: You buy a home, move in, then find out there's an abandoned gas well beneath, leaking and contaminating your property.


Think it can't happen to you? It can. According to the Energy Resources Conservation Board in November 2012 over 150,000 abandoned wellsites dotted the Alberta landscape, making it essential that buyers do their homework.


"These nightmares happen because of gaps between what Albertans should know, could know and actually do know about their environment," says Adam Driedzic, Staff Counsel and author of a new Environmental Law Centre publication, What Lies Beneath? Access to Environmental Information in Alberta.


"In real estate transactions the onus is generally on the buyer to do their due diligence and the general rule for buying and selling real estate is 'buyer beware,'" says Driedzic. "Unfortunately there's no checklist to prove due diligence and no one-stop shop for environmental information." 


Click here to read more.

Of Backhoes and Water Woes:
Reviewing the breadth of landscaping regulation under the Water Act.

We are not all hydrologists or hydrogeologists and this is likely a good thing (otherwise we might all tell jokes like this: "What's the difference between a truck driver and a hydrologist? One has mud flaps, the other has flood maps." (anon.))


When it comes to how we dig in the dirt, Alberta's laws are often not well understood. For example, did you know that you may need a Water Act approval to start moving earth around your land? This is because the Water Act recognizes that what you do to land impacts water and this will often impact your neighbours. (Other laws, such as municipal landscaping bylaws, may also apply but this post focuses on Alberta's Water Act.)

ELC Comments on Updating Allocation and Change of Purpose Policies in Alberta

Water is fundamental to both our economy and the environment.  Alberta's population continues to grow as does its reliance on water supplies. Only through sustaining our environment (both aquatic and terrestrial) will we sustain our quality of life and economic drivers that are generated by the environment.


Current legislation and policy guide government discretion in making water allocation decisions. This includes decisions regarding initial water allocations, licence renewals, water allocation transfers and changes of purpose of existing licences.


The Environmental Law Centre has reviewed the allocation framework and recommends amending these policies to ensure sustainable environmental flows into the future.


Click here to read or download the full set of recommendations.

The Regional 'Plan to Plan'

South Saskatchewan Plan Avoids the Hard Choices 


In September 2014 the Government of Alberta released the first South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) made under the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA). On January 17, 2015 I was honored to present some thoughts on the implications of the SSRP to the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society.


The Ghost Watershed is on the Eastern Slopes upstream from Calgary. The Alliance is a local group of mostly volunteers who on this night attracted a full house of mostly community members. The highlight was a visual 'story-telling' about a project where money from a fine for driving a truck into the river was used to build a bridge and to restore a river bank. I first met this can-do organization through our mutual funder Alberta Ecotrust Foundation during the Ghost Cumulative Effects Study. This study simulated how changing land use practices impact environmental quality and some provocative trade-offs that may be required. For example, restricting off highway vehicles to appropriate trails could measurably improve water quality, but the kilometres of official trails necessary to accommodate the use would exceed that which currently exists. More provocatively, better practices in multiple industries still would not counteract the rate at which our current land use trajectory is depleting our natural capital. We need a serious discussion about which benefits we want the landscape to provide, and about the role of market economics in delivering those benefits. These types of findings are directly relevant to regional planning, so understandably some hopes were high.


Read more on the ELC blog.
Environmental Assessment & the Canadian Constitution: Substitution and Equivalency


The ultimate goal of this publication is to make a determination as to constitutionality of the substitution and equivalency approach endorsed by Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, S.C. 2012, c. 19, s. 52 (CEAA 2012) and, if appropriate, create a case for a constitutional challenge of this aspect of CEAA 2012. The publication also delineates alternative approaches to dealing with the jurisdictional overlap created by Canada's Constitution in the area of environmental assessment. This project involved the collection and analysis of academic literature, legal literature and jurisprudence pertaining to environmental assessment and the Canadian Constitution.


Given the structure of Canada's constitution, there is significant jurisdictional overlap in regulating environmental matters. This can lead to environmental assessment of a single undertaking at both a provincial and federal level. In response to this situation, the federal government has endorsed the mechanisms of substitution and equivalency in the new CEAA 2012. This project considers the constitutionality of the substitution and equivalency approach adopted in CEAA 2012. 


Click here to download this publication (pdf).

Leah Orr
Communications Coordinator

You can strengthen environmental decision-making in Alberta.