Onoway River Valley Conservation Association

Why are governments ignoring ‘public’ water bodies (natural capital), including ‘aquifers’?

The Alberta Water Act states, “all water is vested in right of the crown”. Given the ubiquity of groundwater-surface water exchange, it is more important to view groundwater and surface water a single resource

The Pembina Institute, in their study Counting Canada’s Natural Capital, Accessing the real value of Canada’s boreal ecosystems, “completed an ecosystem inventory including information on watercourses, annual flow rates, groundwater aquifers and monitored changes on ecosystem functionality and their respective service values… and found that the total non-market value of ecosystem services is 13.8 times greater than the net market value of boreal natural capital extraction”. They recommended using this assessment for resource and land-use planning, especially at the municipal level.

The Alberta Water Act definesbody of water’ as any location where water flows or is present, whether or not the flow or the presence of water is continuous, intermittent or occurs only during a flood, and includes but is not limited to wetlands and aquifers.  

The Alberta Public Lands Act describes water bodies’ as  the bed and shores all permanent and naturally occurring bodies of water, and all naturally occurring rivers, streams, watercourses and lakes. 

In application of the Public Lands Act s. 2 (1)(2), except where the Public Lands Act or any other Act expressly provides to the contrary, the Public Lands Act does not apply to public land that is not under the administration of the Minister. All public land is under the administration of the Minister, except that public land that is, by virtue of any other Act under the administration of another Minister of the Crown.  Also, the Public Lands Act s. 2(3),dispositions’ are in every respect subject to this Act and the regulations made under this Act.

The significance of the above referenced study and legislation describes the importance of ecosystem services and their value to not cause or allow damage to waterbodies and adjacent land.

The Alberta Municipal Government Act (MGA) is councils and administrations job description. It lays the foundation for how municipalities operate, function, and how citizens can participate with their municipalities. The MGA is the legislation framework in which all municipalities must operate and is one of the most significant and far reaching statues in Alberta. The MGA affects all Albertans, the private sector and all ministries in the Alberta Government. 

In correspondence with Alberta Municipal Affairs, since 1968 the Municipal Government Act (MGA) has imposed municipalities with the direction control and management of all water bodies, the powers, duties and functions described in the MGA and all other enactments. NO other legislation uses the same language as the MGA in conferring authority for the direction, control and management of all water bodies.  The MGA, s. 60, ‘bodies of water’ states, “subject to any other enactment, a municipality has the direction, control and management of the ‘bodies of water’ within the municipality, including the air space above and the ground below”.

Public trust is the principle that natural resources are maintained and preserved for the common good identifies that the public owns the water, surface and ground water, and this ‘natural capital’ must be kept available for future generations. The concept of public trust includes the belief that all individuals in society must hold the interests of society above their own.

Municipal governments are required to take an official oath of office. Mayors and councilors swear or promise to diligently, faithfully, and to the best of their ability, fulfill the duties of the office to which they have been elected and that means they ‘shall uphold the law’ established by the Parliament of Canada, the Legislature of Alberta and the bylaws adopted by council. Municipalities can never ignore ‘environmental legislation’ as ‘not applicable’ at the earliest stage of land use planning and development. 


We wish to acknowledge that we in Edmonton are on Beaver Hill House/Amiskwaci-waskahikan (Amisk-watchee-waska-ikan)) in Treaty 6 territory, the traditional territory, traveling route and home for many Indigenous Peoples including Cree, Blackfoot , Metis, Nakota Sioux, Dene Suline, and Ojibwa. To share the air, land and water is to give life to all on that territory. For that sharing we are grateful. To show that gratitude we also share the defense of that air, land and water.

To find out more about activities of the Edmonton Council of Canadians, see:  https://edmontoncouncilofcanadians.ca/working-groups-and-projects/You can also send us an email:  edmontoncouncil@yahoo.com

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