On May 7, 1996 Alberta Public Works, Supply and Services (PWSS) filed an application with the Natural Resources Conservation Board to obtain an approval in accordance with section 5(1) of the Natural Resources Conservation Board Act for the construction of a water management project to convey and store water diverted from the Highwood River, consisting of four separate components:
- Enlarge a canal in the Town of High River and in the Municipal District of Foothills No. 31;
- Little Bow River Dam and Reservoir in the Municipal District of Willow Creek No. 26 and in the County of Vulcan No. 2 approximately 20 km west of Champion;
- Clear Lake Diversion and Canal in the Municipal District of Willow Creek No. 26, approximately 15 km east of Stavely; and
- Enlarge the Squaw Coulee Reservoir by constructing upper and lower dams and a return canal to the Highwood River.
The Little Bow / Highwood Project was the third project in Alberta to undergo a joint federal-provincial review under the Canada-Alberta Agreement for Environmental Assessment Cooperation. The Agreement ensures that certain projects that require environmental assessment by Canada under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and by Alberta under the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act are evaluated according to the spirit and requirements of federal and provincial legislation while avoiding unnecessary duplication, delays and confusion that could arise from separate environmental assessments. An agreement to establish a joint NRCB/CEAA panel was signed May 12, 1997 and the Joint Review Panel was announced May 15, 1997. The panel memberswere Mr. Ken Smith, chair, Dr. George Kupfer and Ms. Susan Nelson.
The Joint Review Panel approved the development of the diversion canal to Clear Lake, the enlargement of the diversion canal to the Little Bow River and the construction of the reservoir on the Little Bow. The Panel was not satisfied with the proposed diversion plan and certain aspects of the project subject to conditions outlined in the Draft Form of Approval. Among the conditions of the approval is a requirement to submit a Mitigation Progress Report. The Panel also deferred decision on two aspects of the project pending collection of more information and further public consultation.
Board Order 9601-1 sets out the Board's requirements.
Status of Project Review1998
May: Through Board Order No. 9601-1,the Little Bow Project/Highwood Diversion Plan Joint Review Panel directed Alberta Public Works Supply and Services (now Alberta Infrastructure, INFRAS) to provide additional information on a diversion plan and offstream storage within 12 months (June 1999).
May 14: Alberta Infrastructure requested that the completion date for Board Order No. 9601-1 be extended to October 15, 2000.
June 11: Alberta Infrastructure submitted Mitigation Progress Report that addressed Conditions 5 to 8 of Board Order No. 9601-1.
March 17: Alberta Infrastructure amended its request for extension of the completion date to September 30, 2001.
March 22: New Joint Review Panel established.
March 22: Notice of Meeting issued to review the request for extension of the completion date.
April 19: Public Meeting held in High River.
June 9: Decision report released regarding extension of the completion date.
September 26: Notice of Meeting issued to review progress.
November 22: Public Meeting held in High River.
December 19: Panel finalized Progress Report #2.
April 30: Notice of Public Meeting to review progress was issued.
June 2: Public Meeting held in High River.
July 20: Panel issues Progress Report #3 October 16 Notice of Public Meeting in Okotoks was issued December 01 Public Meeting held in Okotoks.
March 7: Panel issues Progress Report #4.
The NRCB received a status letter from Alberta Transportation stating that the department would work with Alberta Environment to complete a revised operational plan based on the water management scenario endorsed by the Public Advisory Committee (PAC). The operational plan will be incorporated into a revised Diversion Plan. The PAC will document its deliberations and recommendations in a report. The PAC report and the operational plan will be presented to the public in September and if the response is positive, Alberta Transportation will file the revised Diversion Plan and other requirements of Board Order 9601-1.
On December 14, 2006, the Board received a revised Diversion Plan for the Highwood River, submitted by Alberta Environment and Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation. The submission includes Highwood River Public Advisory Committee's (PAC) report and recommendations, along with Alberta Environment's response to PAC’s report and recommendations, and the Diversion Plan.
The revised Diversion Plan is filed in relation to Board Order 9601-1; an order made by the NRCB/CEAA Joint Review Panel in May 1998. Board Order 9601-1 formed part of the Joint Review Panel’s decision following its consideration of Application #9601. Application #9601 asked the Joint Review Panel to consider a proposal to construct a water management project to convey and store water diverted from the Highwood River.
When the Joint Review Panel issued its decision in 1998, it approved the development of the diversion canal to Clear Lake, the enlargement of the diversion canal to the Little Bow River and the construction of the reservoir on the Little Bow. However, the Panel deferred decision on two aspects of the project, pending the submission of further information and following additional public consultation. Specifically, the Panel deferred its decision on the low flow component of the diversion plan for the expanded diversion works on the Highwood River, and expansion of storage at Women’s Coulee or a comparable site.
The December 14, 2006 submission provides a revised Diversion Plan following extensive consultation. Notably, the submitted plan does not incorporate additional water storage, as the PAC concluded the benefits of additional storage would not offset economic and environmental costs.
The federal government is also in receipt of the December 14, 2006 submission and is presently determining their level of involvement in the review process. A new review panel will be formed in 2007 to consider the revised Diversion Plan.
Further information is available in completed applications.