Lamont County landowners need to be aware of several important factors when it comes to water and drainage on their property and the purpose of Lamont County infrastructure in drainage and flood mitigation.
Provincial legislation is in place to deal with unauthorized drainage on private property, and limits the ability for Lamont County to encourage drainage in road ditches.
Please be aware that there is an approval and licensing process prior to commencing these types of activities, and substantial fines may be levied for any contraventions of provincial legislation or municipal bylaws.
The following has been compiled as a helpful guide for landowners.
Unauthorized Drainage on Private Land
All water in Alberta is subject to provincial jurisdiction under the Water Act. Therefore, all activities impacting a water body, including drainage and infilling, require provincial approval.
This includes ephemeral water bodies, which is a shallow water body that temporarily contains water after spring snowmelt or a heavy rainfall that typically dries up within a matter of days to weeks.
Under the Water Act, no wetland may be drained or altered without first receiving provincial authorization.
Natural surface water bodies, including their shorelines, riparian areas and upland drainage areas, play an important role in the environment. Unfortunately, this important role is not well recognized by the general public.
These water bodies and their riparian and upland areas provide some of the following functions:
- Absorb, collect and store water to reduce flooding;
- Replenish groundwater to maintain water tables for wells;
- Provide a supply of water for household and livestock use;
- Conserve species, landscapes and habitats by providing food, homes and nurseries for fish and wildlife;
- Act as carbon sinks by storing carbon from the atmosphere;
- Act as mini microclimates (e.g. water cycle);
- Help to filter out sediment, absorb nutrients, remove chemical residues and treat wastewater;
- Control the spread of salts into cropland;
- Provide a source of high quality hay; and
- Provide a resource for humans (e.g. recreational, medicinal, cultural, archeological, etc.).
Unauthorized drainage can oftentimes have an adverse effect on wetlands, destroying habitat upon which wildlife and pollinators depend. It can ultimately lead to added expenses for residents and landowners.
Under the province’s Water Act, a license is required to divert and use surface or ground water in Alberta.
The license identifies the water source, location of the diversion site, volume, rate and timing of water to be diverted, priority of the “water right” established by the license, and any conditions the diversion must adhere to.
Licenses can be issued for temporary diversions up to a maximum of one year, or for longer time periods, depending on the project type.
Activities in or near a wetland may also be subject to the Alberta Wetland Policy. It is the landowner’s responsibility to ensure all regulatory requirements are met prior to commencing work in or near a wetland. Approval officers will work with landowners to ensure all applicable regulatory requirements are considered. For an application form, visit the Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) website.
After an application has been submitted, a Water Act license or a preliminary certificate may be issued. The preliminary certificate is a “promised” water allocation. Once its conditions have been fulfilled, this certificate expires and a license is issued. Note: A preliminary certificate does NOT authorize an activity or a diversion of water.
A license may be issued where the water source can supply the needs of the applicant and the diversion of water has no adverse effect on the source, surrounding users or the environment.
Enforcement & Fines
Anyone who conducts an activity in a water body without provincial approval or who diverts water without a licence may face enforcement action with a maximum fine of $50,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a corporation. If you observe what you believe to be an illegal water-related activity, contact AEP at 1-800-222-6514.
Rural Drainage - Ditches & Culverts
The Stormwater Managment Guidelines for the Province of Alberta note that the development of agriculture and of transportation networks has resulted in modifications to the natural drainage system. These modifications to land use and drainage patterns can be the source of drainage problems in rural systems.
Rural roads are designed to shed water into roadside ditches; in Alberta these ditches are usually wide and shallow with flat grades. In most cases road are not designed as drainage ditches, however, they can significantly help to manage runoff from spring melt or heavy rain.
Most rural runoff in Alberta occurs in the spring as a result of snowfall. In most cases, significant runoff from rainstorms in an unusual occurrence. Since water is vital to plant growth, particularly in the form of soil moisture retention, agricultural drainage systems are not designed to be efficient in the rate of surface water removal.
The most significant impacts of agriculture on rural drainage systems result from the drainage of wetland areas or the conversion of woodlands to pasture or cropland. These significantly increase the amount of runoff and erosion.
Most adverse impacts are caused by the road drainage system where they cross watercourses; ditches with steep grades approaching creeks and rivers get eroded, which may result in sedimentation problems in the stream. Water crossings such as culverts often restrict the flow in minor watercourses; however, in such cases it is usually the road that suffers the most damage when an extreme runoff event occurs.
The concept of "level-of-service" is firmly based in highway and rural road design, especially in relation to stream crossings. The capacity of such crossings in terms of drainage ability is ultimately determined by the importance of the road and the type of crossing.