Wetlands are low-lying areas of land covered by water long enough to support aquatic plants and wildlife for part of their life cycle.

Wetlands may be isolated on the landscape, or they may be inter-connected by complex hydrology.

Wetlands provide a range of functions and values.

Wetland Types

Wetlands in Alberta are either peatlands or non-peatlands. Wetland types can be organized using various classification systems, although no formal classification system has been adopted for use in Alberta. Wetlands can generally be classified as:

  • Bogs and fens (peatlands) or swamps
  • Shallow open water ponds (non-peatlands)
  • Slough/marshes

On the prairies, wetlands are predominantly the slough/marsh type. In the forested regions of Alberta, peatlands dominate.

Wetland Permanence

Wetlands can also be characterized by their permanence. Wetland permanence is based on the period of time a wetland is inundated by water. In Alberta, five wetland permanence types are found:

  • Ephemeral
  • Temporary
  • Seasonal
  • Semi-permanent
  • Permanent

Wetland Ownership

Wetland ownership is governed by the permanence of the wetland. The province does not claim ownership to the bed of wetlands that are not reasonably permanent (i.e., ephemeral, temporary and seasonal wetlands).

The responsibility for asserting the Crown’s ownership claim to a wetland rests with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Assessments of ownership can take considerable time. Requests for confirmation of wetland ownership may come from throughout the settled area, and it may be advantageous for a municipality, land developer, or landowner or their agents to undertake the primary assessment of wetland permanence, and request the Crown confirm the assessment, and a wetland’s claimability.

For further information, see:

For reference, the 1971 Stewart and Kantrud Classification of Natural Ponds and Lakes in the Glaciated Prairie Region is available for download in two (2) parts:

Although the province does not claim all wetland beds, it does own all the water in wetlands through the Water Act and regulates any activity that may affect them (e.g., drainage and infilling).

Visit the Alberta Queen’s Printer website at:

Alberta Wetland Policy

In response to the growing loss of wetlands on the landscape and the effect this may have on surface water management in Alberta, Cabinet in 1993 approved the Interim Policy for "Wetland Management in the Settled Area of Alberta."

The policy identified as its goal that "the Government of Alberta is to sustain the social, economic and environmental benefits that functioning wetlands provide, now and in the future".

The intent of the policy is further defined as follows, in descending order of preference:

  1. To conserve slough/marsh wetlands in a natural state.
  2. To mitigate degradation or loss of slough/marsh wetland benefits as near to the site of disturbance as possible.
  3. To enhance, restore or create slough/marsh wetlands in areas where wetlands have been depleted or degraded.


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Updated: Aug 13, 2015