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Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) are important stewards of Alberta's major watersheds. They are independent, non-profit organizations that are designated by Alberta Environment and Parks to report on the health of our watersheds, lead collaborative planning, and facilitate education and stewardship activities.
WPACs engage representatives of key stakeholders in the river basin area, including:
- municipal, provincial and federal governments
- industrial sectors
- conservation groups
- aboriginal communities
- the public
In their work, they seek consensus on land and water resource management strategies that support the achievement of shared environmental, social, and economic outcomes for the watershed.
Within Alberta there are currently 11 WPACs representing the major river basins:
- Athabasca Watershed Council
- Battle River Watershed Alliance
- Bow River Basin Council
- Lesser Slave Watershed Council
- LICA – Beaver River Watershed
- Mighty Peace Watershed Alliance
- Milk River Watershed Council Canada
- North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance
- Oldman Watershed Council
- Red Deer River Watershed Alliance
- South East Alberta Watershed Alliance
The Water for Life strategy marked a shift in the management of Alberta's water resources to better enable shared responsibility and environmental stewardship. WPACs are the main mechanism to foster this collaboration at the watershed level, creating opportunities for stakeholders to come together, share resources, and explore innovative solutions to water management challenges. This provides a strong basis for collaborative action and shared ownership in the work of the council.
Water for Life provided WPACs with a mandate to support multi-stakeholder collaboration and community engagement within four main program areas:
- Education and Outreach
- Environmental Stewardship
- Watershed Evaluation and Reporting
- Watershed Management Planning
Education and outreach
Through their education and outreach programs, WPACs aim to raise public awareness about issues and stewardship options within the watershed, and encourage public involvement in watershed management. Education and outreach activities vary across each WPAC according to their priorities and objectives. Below are a few examples of the types of activities that may be underway.
Workshops and educational forums
Workshops and educational forums are regularly held by various WPACs, providing the general public with an opportunity to learn more about issues in the watershed, to network with various stakeholders and to discuss ongoing initiatives.
Several WPACs have also developed classroom programs as part of their education activities. These include school presentations and field trip opportunities, as well as working with schools to develop programs that build environmental awareness and stewardship within the curriculum.
Participation in community events allows WPACs to celebrate successes and engage with the public while raising awareness in a more festive setting.
Many WPACs have developed a number of communication initiatives to support their education and outreach work. Most WPACs regularly send out a newsletter to their members and provide a wealth of information through their website, social media and publications.
Please refer to your local WPAC to learn more about their specific education and outreach programs.
Environmental stewardship is defined as "the recognition of a collective responsibility to retain the quality and abundance of land, air, water and biodiversity, and to manage this natural capital in a way that conserves all of its environmental, economic, social and cultural values" (Alberta Stewardship Network).
WPACs work with communities and stakeholders in the watershed to promote environmental awareness and a shared responsibility for practices that support a healthy watershed. The commitment to action made by individual WPAC partners and the resulting tangible improvements to watershed health serve as a testament of environmental stewardship. The stewardship work undertaken by WPACs has included water conservation initiatives, shoreline cleanups, installation of off-site livestock watering systems, and riparian and wetland restoration programs.
WPACs also provide advice and support to Watershed Stewardship Groups (WSGs) that encourage local actions to promote watershed health.
For a full list of current stewardship initiatives, please refer to your local WPAC website.
Evaluation and reporting
State of the watershed report
The state of the watershed report is one of the 2 key deliverables produced by Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs). It describes the history of the watershed, its natural and built features, the condition of the resources, and the impact of human activity on the watershed. State of the watershed reports are expected to inform the development of Integrated Watershed Management Plans (IWMP), providing a foundation of information for developing effective management strategies to meet watershed goals.
Developed in 2008, the Handbook for State of the Watershed Reporting is intended to serve as an informative reference guide to "non-technical audiences" interested in assessing and reporting on the state of their local watershed. It supports the work of WPACs and Watershed Stewardship Groups (WSGs) pursuing similar activities.
Watershed management planning
Integrated Watershed Management Plans (IWMPs)
IWMPs are the second key deliverable produced by Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs). These plans provide advice to governments and agencies that have policy and regulatory decision-making authority for land and resource management. Collaboration is central to the development of IWMPs, which are based on consensus agreement and inclusive participation of stakeholders and community representatives from within the watershed.
Finalized in 2015, the Guide to Watershed Management Planning in Alberta provides advice on the steps to develop and implement a watershed management plan. The guide is based on the iterative process of adaptive management, from planning through to implementation and evaluation, and back to planning.
Water management plans versus watershed management plans
Unlike watershed management plans, water management plans are statutory plans developed under the Water Act. They provide guidance for regulatory decisions made under the Water Act, including the establishment of minimum in-stream flows, conditions on diversions, and strategies for the protection of the aquatic environment. When a water management plan is approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, it becomes an "Approved Water Management Plan" and must be considered when making water approval decisions.