Looking Ahead at Land-use Planning Policy in Alberta

Here are a few highlights of the policy issues Alberta Land Institute will be following in 2014.

Release of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan

The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) may be the most significant planning tool for southern Alberta in the coming years.  The draft SSRP (up for consultation until January 15) is the second of seven Regional Plans to be developed under the 2009 Alberta Land Stewardship Act.

The SSRP covers a broad range of planning issues and once final, will provide both general advice and legally binding details for decision-makers (such as municipal and provincial government officials). As the most populous region of the province, it’s no surprise that consultation sessions for the SSRP have brought forth a wide range of questions and perspectives about how to manage land and water in the region, including: how much land should be protected, and where? Where should recreational activities be allowed, and not allowed? How will water and air quality be monitored and measured? How can economic interests be balanced with a healthy environment over the long term?

The final SSRP is expected to be released in April – and will set the government’s regional planning direction for much of southern Alberta for the next ten years.

Updates to the Municipal Government Act

The Municipal Government Act (MGA) guides Alberta’s municipal governments – including cities, towns, and municipal districts – in providing public services and maintaining safe and viable communities. The MGA addresses issues such as municipal governance structure, planning and development, and assessment and taxation. The comprehensive MGA review, now underway, will be the first major revisions to the Act since its introduction in 1994; changes to the MGA may have implications for everyday lives of all Albertans, both urban and rural dwellers. Public consultation sessions are now being set for the coming months in locations across the province.

Focus on Flood Prevention and Mitigation

After last year’s devastating floods in southern Alberta, flood mitigation looks to be a policy priority this year. With a flood mitigation plan in place, a number of initiatives are in various stages of preparation and implementation – for example, the provincial government has already announced it is funding research on underground water diversion systems, such as a tunnel under 58 Avenue in Calgary. The government has also committed to update flood hazard mapping and modeling practices for the province to better prepare for future floods.

Implementation of Alberta’s new Wetland Policy

Urban expansion, agriculture, and other human development activities such as energy exploration and extraction have significantly altered or removed wetlands in Alberta. Alberta’s Wetland Policy was released in September 2013, introducing a new “value-based” system for wetland management in the province. By summer 2014, the new policy is scheduled to replace the previous rules governing Alberta’s wetlands.

Completion of a Regional Biodiversity Management Framework

Biodiversity – the plants, animals and ecosystems that make up the variety of life on earth – is threatened in Alberta by factors such as habitat loss, pollution and climate change. The government plans to create Biodiversity Management Frameworks for each of the seven planning regions under the Alberta Land Stewardship Act. This year, the government will likely release both the first Biodiversity Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca Region (that had been slated for release by end of year 2013), as well as the second for the South Saskatchewan Region. Each region is expected to have its own biodiversity priorities and indicators, while some indicators will be province-wide.

Land Use 2014 Conference

It might not be a policy issue, but it is an opportunity for discussion about a variety of environmental and land use planning issues in Alberta! Alberta Land Institute is hosting its inaugural conference in May 2014. Three major topics of discussion will include:

  • Urbanization and the Loss of Agricultural Land
  • What Makes Wetland Policy Effective
  • If it Pays, it Stays: Paying for Ecosystem Services on Private Land

The Land Use 2014 website has more information on the conference, including a preliminary program and online registration.