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Reservoir will displace wetlands

A raw-water storage site in Westlock County will destroy about 67 acres of wetlands, but that loss will be compensated for with the creation of at least 200 acres of new wetland within the same river basin.

A raw-water storage site in Westlock County will destroy about 67 acres of wetlands, but that loss will be compensated for with the creation of at least 200 acres of new wetland within the same river basin.

The storage site is slated to be built on the east side of the Pembina River west of Range Road 11 and north of Township Road 602.

The Westlock Regional Water Services Commission is continuing with its efforts to bring town water to county residents, but that increased demand calls for an increased supply.

Infrastructures Limited (ISL), the commission’s consulting engineers, will build the storage pond on this site because logistically and technically it is the most efficient place for it.

“It’s raw water storage from the river, so proximity is the main reason,” said Gayleen Froese, a communications coordinator with ISL.

The pond will replace a total of about 0.8 hectares, or about 67 acres, of wetlands.

It will be set back about 50 metres from the river to preserve the integrity of the riverbanks.

Wetlands are an important component of the natural environment, as they provide habitat to a wide range of plants and animals.

In accordance with the provincial Water Act, wetlands lost for any project must be replaced at a three-to-one ratio within the same water basin — in this case, the Athabasca River basin.

“The vast majority of this site is Class 3,” Froese said. “It’s a shallow marsh — it usually doesn’t contain standing water all year, it just has very damp ground.”

This type of wetland typically supports sedges and rushes. Most of the area lost, 0.7 hectares, will be this type of wetland.

“The other part is a Class 4. That is a deep marsh, and often has standing water well into the summer,” Froese said.

This type of wetland typically supports species like bulrushes.

“The wetland that’s being lost isn’t what you would call prime wetland,” she added. Furthermore, about 0.9 hectares of the Class 4 wetland at the site will be preserved.

The compensation for the wetlands lost has been arranged through Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), an organization dedicated to preserving existing wetlands and creating new ones.

Craig Bishop, the mitigation services coordinator for DUC in Alberta, said typically compensation for this type of project is done by contracting DUC to replace the wetlands.

“They’re going to pay us a fee, and we’re going to replace the wetlands within that watershed,” he said.

There is not always a direct link between the wetland lost and a specific site elsewhere in the basin, however.

“We piggyback multiple applications because the opportunity for a project that we do might be much larger than one specific application,” he said.

A typical project they might embark on could be as large as 25 or 30 hectares worth of restoration, so one project could be considered appropriate compensation for several instances of wetlands loss.

Bishop emphasized the importance of the three-to-one ratio to ensure the amount of productive wetlands doesn’t drop.

“They’ve implemented this ratio so there is actually a net gain to the provincial wetland inventory,” he said.

Many examples of DUC projects can be seen right within the Westlock area.

“Thunder Lake is one of our projects, and Wolf Lake is another,” Bishop said. “There are a number of projects in the area, both small and large basins.”

Ducks Unlimited Canada is a nation-wide non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the country’s wetlands. For more information visit www.ducks.ca.