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Healthy Aquatic Ecosystem Reports

Aquatic Ecosystem Health in Alberta

Alberta Aquatic Ecosystems - Review of Issues and Monitoring Techniques
Issues concerning the effects of agriculture, resource exploitation, industrial development, forestry, dam and reservoir construction, hydro-electric development, urban and municipal developments, population growth, and climate change provide a wide variety of stressors that affect aquatic ecosystems. This report reviews current and future issues that represent a concern for aquatic ecosystem health and evaluates and prioritizes techniques available for monitoring and assessing aquatic ecosystem health.

An Initial Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystem Health in Alberta
A poster-style information sheet using tables and maps to indicate aquatic ecosystem health in Alberta.

Aquatic Environmentally Significant Areas in Alberta

AEP has led the development of a report, map and GIS files identifying aquatic environmentally significant areas (AESA) in Alberta based on ecological criteria identified by the Alberta Water Council. Using the systematic conservation planning approach, the AESA project assembled aquatic ecosystem data, established parameters for combining the data and developed a model with map output depicting geographic areas.

To view the report and map for Aquatic Environmentally Significant Areas in Alberta, please visit the Open Government Portal at:

Associated GIS files can be viewed at:

This work fulfills a commitment in the Water for Life strategy action plan and was identified as a priority initiative to support healthy aquatic ecosystems by the Alberta Water Council.

The primary intended use of the report is to inform land-use and watershed planning of areas that may require special consideration during planning processes. The report and mapped areas are available as an information tool to support regional planning initiatives. The identification of significant areas does not consider how these areas are being, or how they should be managed. As such, the areas do not represent formal natural resource policy, specific management objectives or comprehensive status reporting.

The significant areas maps are intended to be modified as new information becomes available. Future efforts may include updating the model with recent data and to assess the opportunity to merge the two Environmentally Significant Area products into one provincial layer.

Initial Assessment of Ecological Health of Aquatic Ecosystems in Alberta: Water Quality, Sediment and Non-Fish Biota – Summary Report>
A technical summary of a provincial-scale initial assessment of aquatic ecosystem health based on water and sediment quality and non-fish biota information for major rivers, a selection of tributaries and streams in Alberta. In addition to providing an overview of current knowledge for major basins and an initial assessment of aquatic ecosystem health based on published information, the report identifies gaps and provides recommendations for future more comprehensive monitoring.

Scope of Work for the Initial Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystem Health in Alberta
In addition to developing a scope of work for the initial assessment of aquatic ecosystem health, the report provides background on approaches for defining aquatic ecosystem health, reviews Canadian and other pertinent international approaches for assessing aquatic ecosystem health, and proposes a framework for conducting the initial assessment of aquatic ecosystem health.

Instream Flow Needs

A Desktop Method for Establishing Environmental Flows in Alberta Rivers and Streams
This report identifies a method to estimate an ecologically-based flow regime on the basis of reductions from natural flow or the per cent exceedance from natural flow. It also provides background information and a jurisdictional review of current environmental flow (instream flow needs) knowledge in North America and international rivers. The report was prepared by AEP in support of outcomes and goals identified in the provincial Water for Life strategy and action plan.

Alberta Desktop Method for Determining Environmental Flows
This fact sheet provides a summary of information contained in the report A Desktop Method for Establishing Environmental Flows in Alberta Rivers and Streams. The main report was developed primarily for rivers that have natural flows and to make a full protection environmental flow recommendation where site-specific instream flow needs data is not available.

Environmental Flows
This program outlines how to protect or restore fish and wildlife habitat that depends on water flow. By considering the program's science-based guidelines, natural resource managers can protect fish and wildlife populations from the direct impacts of water flow changes caused by humans.

Instream Flow Needs and Water Management System for the Lower Athabasca River
This Water Management Framework is designed to protect the ecological integrity of the lower Athabasca River during oil sands development. It represents the work of AEP and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) - a multi-stakeholder group that includes environmental groups, First Nations, industry and regulators also contributed to this framework.

South Saskatchewan River Basin Instream Flow Needs Determination - ecological basis of flow regimes for aquatic resources

Riparian Areas and Preserving Water Quality

Economics of Riparian Area Grazing (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)
The grazing practices that maintain productive riparian pastures usually also help maintain the vital landscape functions performed by healthy riparian areas. These functions include maintaining water quality, preventing bank erosion, reducing flood damage, and providing habitat in and next to the stream or pond.

Introductory Guide to Surface Water Quality Monitoring in Agriculture (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)
With the recent heightened awareness of the effects that agricultural practices can have on surface water quality in Alberta, there is increased interest in undertaking water quality monitoring programs at a local level. However, water quality monitoring programs can be extremely time consuming and costly, and they tend to be data-rich and information-poor. This guide provides an introduction to developing a water quality monitoring program.

Managing Cow-Calf Operations to Protect Water Quality (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)
Wintering and feeding areas beside creeks, rivers, lakes or dugouts can contribute contaminated runoff to these water bodies during spring snowmelt or heavy rainfalls. Cattle with unrestricted access to these water bodies can contaminate them with manure and sediment from damaged stream banks.

Managing Nitrogen to Protect Water Quality (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)
Excess nitrogen that is not used by growing crops converts to nitrate (NO3-) which can be very mobile in soils. Nitrate can leach through the root zone and contaminate shallow groundwater. Areas with coarse or sandy soils are at greater risk for nitrate leaching to ground water. Nitrogen can also be carried in runoff and contaminate surface waters. Nitrogen must be managed properly to increase crop yields and protect water quality.

Managing Phosphorus to Protect Water Quality (Alberta Agriculture and Rural Forestry)
Phosphorus in runoff can pollute surface waters and cause excessive algal and plant growth. The lack of dissolved oxygen makes it difficult for aquatic organisms to survive. Algal blooms and excessive weed growth can have negative effects on aquatic ecosystems as well as harm human and livestock health. Blue-green algae contain toxins that can affect the liver and nervous system. Algae blooms can plug water pumps and impair water delivery, as well as produce algal scums that smell and look bad. Excessive weed growth and continual algal blooms also decrease the life of a dugout.

Manure Management to Protect Water Quality (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)
Manure use can provide an economic return to the farmer and beneficial to the environment. However, manure can be a pollutant if it reaches surface water (such as streams, rivers or lakes) or leaches past the root zone of crops and into shallow ground water

Remote Pasture Water Systems for Livestock (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry)
Livestock producers want to provide a safe, reliable supply of good quality water for their livestock, and they want to increase their management to better utilize their pastures for livestock production. Many producers are using remote water systems and applying the latest technology available for extended livestock grazing and winter feeding of livestock away from the farmyard.

Riparian Areas: A User’s Guide to Health (Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society - Cows and Fish)


Alberta Wetland Policy
The Alberta Wetland Policy provides the strategic direction and tools required to make informed management decisions in the long-term interest of Albertans. The policy will minimize the loss and degradation of wetlands, while allowing for continued growth and economic development in the province.

A Review of Indicators of Wetland Health and Function in Alberta's Prairie, Aspen Parkland and Boreal Dry Mixed wood Regions
The purpose of this report is to conduct a review of the primary literature on Alberta wetlands and identify potential indicators of health of wetland ecosystems in Alberta, specifically in the prairie, aspen parkland and boreal dry mixed-wood regions.



  • Provincial Wetland Restoration/Compensation Guide
  • Shoreline Modification

Guideline for Wetland Establishment on Reclaimed Oil Sands Leases: Revised (2007) Edition
This second edition of the wetlands guideline is an update of the state of knowledge regarding reclamation of wetlands in the oil sands region. It describes an integrated approach to the planning, design, construction, monitoring and adaptive management of reclaimed wetlands.

Provincial Wetland Restoration/Compensation Guide
This guide has been written for government regulators, land developers, the public, wetland restoration agencies, and government departments whose mandates or activities affect wetlands. It explains how applications under the Water Act will be reviewed when loss of wetland area will occur. It also explains wetland compensation; a process to help reduce loss of wetland area by restoring drained or altered naturally occurring wetlands.

Wetland Inventory

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has merged historical and new wetland inventory projects into a seamless provincial layer for viewing on GeoDiscover Alberta - the new Alberta government geospatial data portal. The layer has been standardized to ensure consistency with the Canadian Wetland Classification System.

The various project inventories comprising the new provincial layer were originally collected for a broad range of purposes and are based on both historic and current data. As a result, the merged product does have some limitations. However, the ongoing evolution of this product is very much based on a model of continuous improvement. The department continues to fill in the few remaining gaps where no inventory exists and focus on refining coverage in areas where mapping options have improved.

The new merged wetland layer covers over 90 per cent of the province and will support both watershed and regional scale planning.

For information on the inventory and to view the data, visit the GeoDiscover Alberta website and type "merged wetland" in the catalogue search function.

Wetland Management in the Settled Area of Alberta - An Interim Policy
This interim policy produced in 1993 provided direction for the management of slough/marsh wetlands in the settled area of Alberta. It was prepared in response to the loss of wetlands and the need for consistent direction to guide provincial government departments. It was developed cooperatively by the Alberta Water Resources Commission and various government departments.


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Updated: Jul 5, 2018