Update from Alberta's Living Laboratory Project: Restoring wetlands through market based solutions

To create a sustainable future for Alberta’s economy and environment means implementing and discovering practical methods to better conserve and restore wetlands. 

It’s the work a team of researchers from the University of Alberta’s Alberta Land Institute studied when they launched Alberta’s Living Laboratories Project in 2015 by identifying market based solutions that can be used to restore wetlands. The goals of the project were simple: discover the number of restorable and lost wetlands in Rocky View County and qualify the value of restoring wetlands to all those living within the county.

The work and lessons learned in nearly three years has been considerable. 

Rocky View County sits on the Nose Creek Watershed, an important water basin that passes through agricultural land, urban areas and places of industrial development. Proper care and management of this watershed will benefit Albertans and our environment both now and for future generations. 

This land area has over 400 restorable wetlands available, including 250 landowners with restorable wetlands on their property. To identify previously lost, restorable wetlands, the researchers used a technique called remote sensing, a process that identifies low-lying areas where wetlands tend to be. 

Restoring wetlands comes at a cost for landowners. It’s why the research team used an innovative reverse auction process that was developed at the University of Alberta and provides an economic incentive for landowners to get involved in recovering wetlands. 

Landholders were asked to name the amount they would require to restore the wetlands on their property. The researchers ranked those amounts as “bids” in an auction. Participants were paid equally the amount of the highest winning bidders submission. In total, thirteen basins covering 47.3 acres were accepted for restoration. Ten of these basins have now been restored – indicating the success of the process. 

The fact is, while wetlands cover 20 per cent of Alberta’s surface area, there has been steady erosion due to growing demands from industry and population growth. But conserving and restoring wetlands across the province does not need to come at the cost of economic development. 

Wetlands play a critical role in sustaining healthy watersheds by protecting water quality, providing water storage and infiltration, preventing floods, providing habitat for wildlife, fish and plants, and sustaining biodiversity. They are the most productive ecosystems on earth. 

According to the Alberta government’s Wetlands policy, wetlands are estimated to host some 400 species of plants, some of which are listed as rare, threatened or endangered in the province. 

The engagement and support from landowners in Rocky View County in just a few years has been encouraging.
What we have learned from this research to date will be critical when it comes to maintaining engagement with landowners across Alberta and developing public policy solutions that work and can be effective for the benefit of all Albertans. 

For more information, please visit http://restoreourwetlands.ca/or contact wetlands@ualberta.ca.

Anna Kauffman is a Masters of Science candidate at the University of Alberta Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology