AENV led the development of the 1999 Regional Sustainable Development Strategy for the Athabasca Oil Sands Area (the RSDS). The RSDS provides a framework for balancing development with environmental protection and provides for government and stakeholders to work together to set new, specific regional resource goals and targets. RSDS is being implemented in partnership with the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), a non-profit organization of stakeholders from government, industry and the public. In 2003, the Federal/Provincial Panel reviewing Shell Jackpine Phase 1and Canadian Natural Resources Limited Horizon applications stressed the importance of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) completing an in-stream flow needs (IFN) recommendation for the Athabasca River. The Panel further indicated that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Alberta Environment (AENV) complete an IFN Framework if CEMA could not provide a recommendation by December 31, 2005.
This Water Management Framework (the Framework) defines Instream Flow Needs (IFN) as the scientific recommendation for water requirements to achieve ecological protection of the Athabasca River. The Framework uses the term "Water Management System" to refer to the method of applying the IFN to the Athabasca River in a way that minimizes impacts from human water use. The Water Management System goes beyond the scientific recommendation to consider how best to meet water requirements while protecting the biological integrity of the Athabasca River.
This document is a synthesis of the Alberta Environment (AENV) interim framework that was presented for public comment in January 2006, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) work on Instream Flow Needs, and stakeholder concerns brought forward during the AENV framework review period. The Framework will be used for regulatory decision-making and lays out a procedure for adaptive management of oilsands water withdrawals.
In implementing the Framework, AENV and DFO recognize the existence of competing needs for water resources. The Framework achieves a high level of protection while balancing aquatic ecosystem needs with those of community and industry. The goal is to ensure low impact to the river ecosystem as well as water conservation and innovation on the part of water users.
The Framework consists of two components: Phase 1 and Phase 2.
Several objectives will be achieved by the Framework in both Phase 1 and 2:
One component of adaptive management, as used in the context of the Framework, is the tracking of effects of water withdrawals on the aquatic ecosystem through rigorous monitoring programs. Monitoring results will then be used to modify the Framework as required to meet the objectives above.
Alberta Environment and Fisheries and Oceans Canada believe that the phased, adaptive management approach presented in this Framework is consistent with the Regional Sustainable Development Strategy for the Athabasca Oil Sands (RSDS):
"The RSDS provides a framework for balancing development with environmental protection.
It is also consistent with Alberta's Water for Life Strategy:
"Albertans reaffirmed three goals of a provincial water strategy:
Alberta has made the development and implementation of IFN-based water management frameworks a priority for Alberta rivers through the Water for Life Strategy. Consideration of the impact on the aquatic environment is also a legislated part of decision-making on new applications for withdrawals under the Water Act.
The framework is also consistent with DFO's Strategic Plan
Sustainable development is an ongoing priority for DFO to support the building of a strong economy while protecting Canada's natural environment. The Government of Canada states that development is essential to satisfy human needs and improve the quality of human life, but must be based on the efficient and environmentally responsible use of all of society's scarce resources - natural, human and economic. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has an important role to play in the federal government's sustainable development agenda. It is therefore important to view programs from the perspective of an approach that integrates environment, economic, and social analysis and to practise the principles of sustainable development in decision-making (Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2005-2010 Strategic Plan).
AENV and DFO appreciate the complexity of developing a Water Management Framework (an IFN and a water management system), and recognize the indispensable contribution of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) stakeholders. AENV and DFO remain committed to the use of multi-stakeholder processes in support of the Framework.
This document presents a description of the Framework in Section 3.0, definitions in Section 4.0, and contact information in Section 5.0. Appendix 1 provides a general non-technical overview of what an IFN is and why one should be established. Appendix 2 presents the context for determining IFN threshold values for the lower Athabasca River. Detail on the science and management decisions behind the Framework can be found in Appendix 3.