The Water Act is Alberta’s current water management legislation. This Act came into force on January 1, 1999, and focuses primarily on the planning for and enforcement of water use in Alberta. Some of the main features of the Water Act are outlined below:
The Alberta Public Lands Act manages the use of crown land, which is land that is owned by the provincial government. This is a big job because most land in Alberta is public or crown land, meaning that it is neither privately owned nor is it a provincial or national park. The Public Lands Act governs the activities that can be conducted on this land and includes enforcement and compliance provisions when the land is harmed or improperly used.
This Act also plays a role in the governance of any water on these lands. In Alberta, the majority of water bodies are considered to be public land and section 3(1) of the Public Lands Act defines what the Crown can claim as public rather than private land. Notably, this definition includes permanent and naturally occurring bodies of water, rivers, streams, watercourses, and lakes. Section 3(2) identifies some exceptions to this crown control and ownership, however the provincial government still holds a significant amount of power when it comes to deciding how, and by whom, our water bodies are used.
The Species at Risk Act or SARA is federal legislation whose overarching purposes include the prevention of animal, plant, and insect species from becoming extinct or extirpated, providing for the recovery of species at risk, and ensuring that species of special concern (a lower designation) do not become threatened or endangered.
SARA’s goals include providing ample protection for aquatic species in the province, however, they are limited by the fact that this legislation only applies to species on federally controlled lands. As you now know, if provincial public lands make up 60% of the land in Alberta and we take into account provincial parks, private land, and more, you can see that the federal government would have control over only a small portion of all the land in Alberta.
However, for water bodies that fall under federal jurisdiction, SARA may affect how the water body can be used and what human activity can occur near or on the water.
In Canada, the federal government has jurisdiction over water when it is related to fisheries, navigation, international relations such as boundary waters, and federal lands such as national parks. Much of the protection for aquatic species and their habitat comes from the Fisheries Act, however this protection regime is echoed in Section 34(1) of SARA.
The Fisheries Act is the federal statute that manages Canadian fisheries. The four fundamental subject matters dealt with in this legislation are: the proper management and control of fisheries; the conservation and protection of fish; the protection of fish habitat; and the prevention of pollution. However, it has long been criticized as being primarily aimed at regulating fishing rather than being true conservation legislation. In summer 2019, the federal government amended the Fisheries Act and brought back some increased protections for fish habitat, improving the conservation aspect of this Act.
One of the strongest conservation provisions in the new Fisheries Act is a reinstatement of the previous Section 35. Between the 1970s and 2012, this provision was known as the HADD provision because it protected fish and fish habitat by prohibiting the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.
Unfortunately, in 2012, this power was significantly limited when the federal government at the time limited the provision to only prohibit any person from carrying on a work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery unless the work falls under one of the exceptions outlined in Section 35(2) [emphasis added]. This change limited when and where the provision could apply and raised the bar for what would be considered harmful enough to trigger legislative protection. After a lot of critiques, the HADD provision was brought back in the 2019 amendments. 
In Alberta, the Fisheries Act is the Act that dictates how water bodies where fish live, reproduce in, or otherwise occupy, are managed. It gives the federal government control over fisheries in Alberta, however the federal government’s power must be weighed alongside provincial control over the management and sale of water, public lands or property, and civil rights – powers awarded to the province under the Constitution. Additionally, both federal and provincial powers have to take Aboriginal rights, protected under Section 35 of the Constitution, into consideration.
The Municipal Government Act (MGA) is the Act that puts in place the legislative framework for all municipalities and municipal entities across the province of Alberta. This means that it provides the governance model for local governments and lays the foundation for how municipalities operate, how municipal councils function, and how citizens can work with their municipalities. It also has a role to play in the governance of Alberta’s water.
The MGA defines a water body as, “a permanent and naturally occurring water body or a naturally occurring river, stream, watercourse or lake”. Following this definition, in Section 60, the MGA states that 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.[2-] As you may have already been able to tell, governing and legislating for water is a complex feat that involves every level of government.
So, what control do municipalities have? Among other things, the MGA gives them the authority to choose whether development permits will be issued beside a body of water or on land subject to flooding or near a wetland; to award budget allocations to water treatment and/or water storage; to mandate that the owners of proposed subdivisions designate a portion of the proposed land as an environmental reserve – including land on the shore of a body of water and to choose to do so as a means of preventing water pollution. The MGA awards municipalities more control over day to day governance, which, in turn, awards them more power and control over the environment including our water.
The Canada National Parks Act begins by dedicating the national parks of Canada to the people of Canada for their benefit, education, and enjoyment and states that the parks shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
In Alberta, there are five national parks: Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Elk Island National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park and Wood Buffalo National Park. This land base is widely used for numerous outdoor activities including skiing, hiking, camping and other outdoor enjoyment.
National Parks are considered to be federal land, which means that other federal legislation such as the Species at Risk Act applies. The SARA will therefore place certain restrictions on the national park due to its protection of species at risk.
Additionally, the Canada National Parks Act and associated Regulations impose limits on the use of water resources in the Parks. For example, Section 21 of the Canada National Parks General Regulation prohibits any type of motorized watercraft, water-skiing equipment or sub-surface diving equipment, unless specifically authorized.
<< Water Law
 Water Act, RSA 2000, c W-3.
 Water Act, s 1(ggg).
 Alberta Energy Regulator, “Q&A – Water Act” online: https://www.aer.ca/applications-and-notices/application-process/qa-water-act.
 Water Act, s 1 (x).
 Check here for authorization types: https://www.alberta.ca/authorizations-issued-under-the-wateract-or-epea.aspx#toc-0.
 Water Act, s 37(1).
 Water Act, s 105.
 Public Lands Act, RSA 2000, c P-40.
 Species at Risk Act, SC 2002, c 29.
 Species at Risk Act.
 Constitution Act, 1867 (UK), 30 & 31 Vict, c 3, reprinted in RSC 1985, App II, No 5, ss 91(10) & (12); Natural Resources Canada, “Water governance: federal policy and legislation” (7 June 2017) Government of Canada online: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/water-overview/governance-legislation/federal-policy.html.
 Species at Risk Act, s 34(1).
 Fisheries Act, SC 2019, c 14.
 Ecojustice, “Legal Backgrounder: Fisheries Act” (February 2013) online: https://www.ecojustice.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Ecojustice-Fisheries-Act-Feb-2013.pdf.
 Fisheries Act.
 Fisheries Act, s 35.
 Fisheries Act.
 Municipal Government Act, RSA 2000, c M-26.
 Municipal Government Act, s 1(1.2).
 Municipal Government Act, s 60.
 Municipal Government Act, ss 242, 640(l) (i)-(iii) & 664.
 Canada National Parks Act, SC 2000, c 32.
 Canada National Parks Act, s 4(1).
 Travel Alberta, “National Parks” Government of Canada online: https://www.travelalberta.com/ca/places-to-go/national-parks/.
 National Parks General Regulation, SOR/78-213 s 17.
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