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Athabasca River Integrated Watershed Management Plan

The plan is finished! Now the real work of implementation begins!

“Goal: To develop and implement an integrated watershed management plan to ensure the Athabasca River watershed remains healthy and resilient, within its range of natural variability, for current and future generations.”

Work on developing an Athabasca River Integrated Watershed Management Plan is complete. Read the approved IWMP here:


What is integrated watershed management planning?

Integrated watershed management planning is a comprehensive process involving governments, non-government organizations, industry, Indigenous communities and the public. Participants identify social, economic and environmental watershed values, as well as the issues affecting them. An integrated watershed management plan is developed and implemented in order to resolve issues and protect shared values.  Such plans provide advice to governments and other agencies that have policy and regulatory decision-making authority for water, land and resource management.

How was work on the integrated watershed management plan initiated?

In 2008, the Government of Alberta undertook extensive discussions about a potential watershed collaboration with several sectors and Indigenous communities throughout the Athabasca watershed via ten focus group sessions.  Interested sectors then self-selected a representative to participate in the Athabasca WPAC Initiators Working Group. This group developed foundational documents and undertook other work leading to the formation of the Athabasca Watershed Council (AWC) society and Board of Directors in 2009.

Once formed, the AWC initiated work on a state of the watershed (SOW) assessment. In 2011, the AWC hosted both a stewardship forum and a municipal forum in order to discuss watershed issues pertinent to these two sectors. The SOW Phase I report summarized watershed issues identified in a number of other reports and studies. A separate report on Indigenous knowledge identified water issues relevant to First Nation and Métis communities in the Athabasca watershed.

 In 2012, as part of selecting indicators for the SOW Phase 2 report, the AWC used an online survey to get feedback on stakeholder perceptions of watershed health. Additionally in 2012, the AWC hosted four public participation events at Hinton, Westlock, Anzac, and Fort McKay to raise awareness and understanding of the indicators selected. 

In addition to these activities, AWC staff, board, and committee members have made numerous presentations and/or attended other events where they have been able to engage others in discussions about the state of the Athabasca River watershed. This information about the values and perceptions held by those living, working and recreating in the Athabasca informed the State of the Watershed process, and the Athabasca River Integrated Watershed Management Plan.



How was this draft produced? 

The AWC initiated work on the IWMP in early 2018. Development of an IWMP Terms of Reference provided an opportunity for the committee and the board to discuss their vision of the plan. Concurrent release of the SOW Summary Report and 3 subsequent open houses (at Edson, Westlock and Fort McMurray) provided an opportunity to publicly announce the initiation of IWMP work through social media, as well as to attendees and media who reported on the events.

This IWMP page was added to the website in order to direct enquiries and post updates on IWMP progress.  Additionally, a number of presentations to individual municipal councils throughout 2018 and a fall municipal forum provided the opportunity to engage this sector in early discussions about IWMP goal statements.

Given this previous body of work identifying sector, stakeholder and Indigenous issues and concerns, the Technical Committee agreed in the fall of 2018 to proceed with developing a first draft and then using it to solicit more detailed feedback via a variety of engagement activities. Throughout drafting, several documents, experts, potential partners and sector representatives have been consulted to ensure wording / context are correct and potential strategies and actions feasible.

With drafting complete, the Technical Committee now looks forward to implementing the Athabasca IWMP. 

Integrating Land and Water Management through Planning

While the Athabasca Integrated Watershed Management Plan focuses on water issues within the Athabasca watershed, other plans focus on land use, resource management and municipal development within the region. For example the Government of Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Regional Plan was created under the Land Use Framework in 2012 to provide broad guidance for future development of the area. While there isn’t an Upper Athabasca Regional Plan yet, the Luscar and Gregg River Mines Land Management Plan guides coal development in this area. Similarly, Integrated Resource Plans have been used in the past to guide resource management activities in many parts of Alberta. Plans can also be used to protect important areas. For example, sub-regional plans are being developed for the Wandering River and Berland areas to manage land use in areas important for caribou habitat. Similarly, Parks Canada has recently updated its 10 year management plan for Jasper National Park. Finally, municipalities undertake planning at multiple scales, starting with broad policies in their Municipal Development Plans and Land Use Bylaws, adding more detail in Area Structure Plans and Sub-division Plans. While the planning framework may seem complex, most plans work to balance social, economic and environmental values of the people living and working in a particular area. It is the role of land, resource and water managers to make sure plans align and integrate to achieve shared outcomes.