Overview

The Alberta government is committed to managing the long-term cumulative effects of development on the environment at the regional scale. The Land Use Secretariat leads the process for developing regional plans for government. Alberta Environment and Parks contributes to regional plan development and implementation with content related to environmental and resource management outcomes for air, land, water and biodiversity.

The Lower Athabasca region in northeast Alberta is home to Alberta’s vast oil sands resources. The Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) is the first regional plan under Alberta’s Land-use Framework. It guides future resource decisions while considering environmental, social and economic impacts.

The Government of Alberta approved LARP on August 22, 2012. It became effective on September 1, 2012.

Environmental management frameworks

The plan includes environmental management frameworks for air, surface water quality, surface water quantity, groundwater and tailings management. It also commits to developing a biodiversity management framework. These frameworks help manage the long-term cumulative effects of development and activities on the regional environment. The frameworks:

  • include regional outcomes and objectives
  • identify indicators to help understand conditions of the environment
  • set regional threshold values, including triggers and limits
  • establish a management response if triggers or limits are exceeded
  • outline monitoring, evaluation and reporting requirements

This proactive management approach helps ensure negative trends are identified early and reduces the risk of exceeding regional ambient limits.

Surface Water Quantity Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca River

Development of the framework

In 2015, the Lower Athabasca Region Surface Water Quantity Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca River (the Framework) updated and replaced the 2007 Water Management Framework.

The Framework establishes weekly management triggers and water withdrawal limits to enable proactive management of mineable oil sands water use from the Athabasca River. These weekly management triggers and associated water withdrawal limits reflect seasonal variability and become more restrictive as flows in the river decrease.

In addition to the weekly management triggers, the Framework introduces a series of adaptive management triggers that will indicate when river flow and water use conditions are close to-, or outside of-, the range of predicted future conditions used in modelling and development of the weekly management triggers and water withdrawal limits. Adaptive management triggers will direct a management response process, led by Alberta Environment and Parks.

Oil sands operators develop and submit annual Oil Sands Mining Water Management Agreements as identified in the Framework.

Thresholds – Limits and triggers

Management frameworks establish environmental thresholds that can include limits and triggers. Limits are clear boundaries not to be exceeded. Triggers are warning signals that allow for evaluation, adjustment and innovation on an ongoing basis.

This proactive and dynamic management approach helps ensure that:

  • trends are identified and assessed
  • regional limits are not exceeded
  • the environment remains healthy for the region’s residents and ecosystems

Fact sheets

Management Plans

Muskeg River interim management framework

The Muskeg River watershed is located in the Athabasca Oil Sands region of northern Alberta, within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. The river is a tributary to the Athabasca River and drains an extensive area of boreal forest wetlands. The area of the Muskeg River watershed is about 1,480 km2.

Due to the mining activities in the area, careful planning and appropriate regulations are necessary to ensure that the cumulative effects of these large-scale and long-term developments do not compromise the ecological integrity of the area.

This interim management plan for the Muskeg River is a starting point in the development of a long-term strategy to address the impacts oil sands mining activities have on the watershed. Cumulative effects management, integrated regional planning and comprehensive watershed management are ways in which environmental impacts of development can be minimized.

Reports

Annual progress reports

Annual reports document the progress made toward implementing the strategies outlined in LARP:

Ambient condition reports

Status reports on ambient environmental monitoring under environmental management frameworks include:

Management response reports

Reports on the status of management response under environmental management frameworks include: