Canada: The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan From An Irrigation Perspective

Last Updated: February 27 2014
Article by Richard Jones


This review sets out some of the concerns about the draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP). These concerns are limited to the impact of the SSRP on irrigation districts.


The draft SSRP deals with matters far beyond the scope of land use. It encompasses economic, environmental and social matters. The Plan has three broad objectives – build the economy, protect the environment and create people-friendly communities. Rather than being a planning document, the SSRP is a policy document setting out a vision for the region and seven outcomes that the Provincial Government wishes to attain. Irrigation districts are required to consider the SSRP in making decisions and implementing bylaws, policy, and guidelines, and conducting operations. The draft SSRP is lengthy, totalling 157 pages. For clarity and ease, it is recommended that the SSRP include a map identifying lands and the approved or discretionary purpose for the lands. More specificity would allow local government bodies, which include irrigation districts, to act in a more purposeful manner in achieving the SSRP's objectives.

The other recommendations are:

  • The Government ought to revise the definition of "local government body" so that it conforms to the Irrigation Districts Act definition of irrigation district rather than the being defined as the board of directors of an irrigation district.
  • Each board or directors ought to review its bylaws, policies, guidelines, etc. to determine whether it complies with the SSRP and, if not, determine the steps to be taken to ensure compliance.
  • AIPA and districts need to persist in their efforts to publicly promote the economic, health and social benefits of irrigation so that the industry can continue to enjoy social licence to operate.
  • Each district ought to examine existing and new in- and off-stream water storage options to ensure secure supply of water for Albertans, which is a major objective of the SSRP.
  • The SSRP regulations ought to state that a section 37 Notice does not prevent a district from seeking civil remedies such as injunctive relief and damages against a polluter.

Scope of the SSRP

Under the enabling Alberta Land Stewardship Act, the SSRP applies to "local government bodies". The term "local government bodies" is defined to include a board of directors of an irrigation district. This concept of the board of directors of an irrigation district being the legal entity of an irrigation district is out-of-date. Sections 5 and 6 of the Irrigation Districts Act establish irrigation districts as corporations with natural person rights. Its predecessor legislation, the Irrigation Act, repealed, referred to the board of directors of an irrigation districts as being a corporation. The Irrigation Districts Act modernized the corporate status of irrigation districts by recognizing the irrigation district rather than the board of directors as the corporate entity, and also granting irrigation districts natural person powers. ALSA's definition of irrigation district as being the board of directors is a step backward and needs to be updated so that it is same as the Irrigation Districts Act.

As a local government body, the board of directors of an irrigation district is bound by the regional plan "in respect of land, activities, effects, the environment, species and thresholds..." The SSRP's Introduction, Strategic Plan and Implementation Plan are not legally binding upon an irrigation district. Only the regulations are legally binding on the board of directors of an irrigation district.

Regulatory Obligations on a Board of Directors

Section 7 of the proposed SSRP regulations requires the board of directors of a district, "before carrying out any function in respect to the local government body's powers, duties and responsibilities in the planning region, consider the SSRP Strategic Plan and the SSRP Implementation Plan." Technically, a board of directors of a district do not have any statutory "powers, duties and responsibilities" for water management and irrigation. Under the Irrigation Districts Act, the irrigation district, as a corporation, is imbued with statutory "powers, duties and responsibilities" – to convey and deliver water, divert and use water, construct and operate works, maintain the economic viability of the district.

The use of the "board of directors" as being a local government body introduces uncertainty into the obligations of land use planning. The question that will arise is whether it is the irrigation district's obligation or each member of the board of director's obligation for land use planning that the SSRP seeks to effect. Even though the ordinary person may equate a board of directors and the corporate entity as one, the law does not. In law, legal liability for the acts of the corporation adheres to the corporation and not the board of directors. ALSA and, consequently, the SSRP attempt to go behind the legal fiction of a corporation and make directors personally responsible for how a district implements planning decisions.


Within 5 years of the SSRP regulations becoming law, a board must (i) review its regulatory instruments (bylaws, rules, codes of practice, guidelines, documents used for administering the Irrigation Districts Act, policies, plans, objectives, procedures, etc.) and make any necessary changes to ensure that they comply with the SSRP, and (ii) file a statutory declaration stating that the review has been completed and the board is in compliance. So far the draft SSRP does not contain any penalties for non-compliance. It is expect that the final SSRP will. Under the existing ALSA, the stewardship commissioner has the right to apply to the court for an order to amend a board's regulatory instruments to ensure compliance. Under the Alberta Rules of Court, typically, legal costs are awarded against the loser.

In order to insulate a board of directors from liability for non-compliance, it is recommended that an independent, third party conduct an audit of the district's regulatory instruments to determine compliance. Where the directors retain a credible third party auditor, the defence of due diligence may be used to successfully avoid a charge of non-compliance against the directors.

Existing Water Licences Unaffected

Previous issued water licences, even if issued for a purpose inconsistent with the SSRP, remain in effect. The SSRP does not purport to revoke or amend existing water licences. The SSRP will likely impact the issuance of and conditions imposed on new water licences applied for prior to the moratorium. The degree of impact is not known at this stage.

Policy – Strategies & Outcomes

The overall purpose of the SSRP is to promote:

  • Healthy economy supported by Alberta's land and natural resources.
  • Healthy ecosystems and environment.
  • People-friendly communities with ample recreational and cultural opportunities.

The SSRP does not rank or prioritize these outcomes. The challenge for a board will be in attempting to weigh the benefits and burdens of the SSRP strategies and outcomes in carrying out the district's statutory obligations and business that touch upon water and land development matters without favouring one outcome over another.

Role of Irrigation Districts

The plan recognizes irrigation districts provide advice, regulatory administration and strategic recommendations in order to properly manage and use water to enhance agricultural productivity. Further, it recognizes the reality that irrigation districts do not provide water solely for irrigators, but also municipalities, wildlife habitat and recreation facilities, and that this supply of water for non-irrigation uses is an important function of irrigation districts.


The draft SSRP emphasizes the importance of agriculture and irrigated agriculture to the region.

"The economic success of the South Saskatchewan Region is driven in part by a combination of fertile grassland soils and irrigation development that has provided the necessary land base for crop production, livestock grazing, as well as land for the majority of Alberta's cattle feedlot capacity." (p. 14 – Strategic Plan)

The plan is tempered with environmental concerns for the stated purpose of ensuring that the agricultural industry "remains competitive and continues to enjoy social licence to operate." Social licence is a difficult thing to manage. It is dynamic, changing with public beliefs, opinions and perceptions. Since social licence is a criteria to the continued or expanded operation of irrigated agriculture, it will be necessary for the industry to continue and perhaps step up its efforts to inform the public of the economic, social and health benefits of irrigation and local, irrigated agriculture. This is a message that sometimes gets lost amongst other more clamorous voices that vie for the attention of urban citizens and voters.

Secure Supply of Water

Under the draft SSRP, the Alberta Government is committed to the implementation of Alberta's Irrigation: A Strategy for the Future. SSRP recognizes the need for "a reliable supply of quality water supplied through the region's irrigation infrastructure." The SSRP mentions "secure" water sources a number of times and mentions on- and off-stream storage as one of the management tools that can achieve secure supply. This may be an invitation to the industry to raise new in- and off-stream storage options with the Alberta Government so as to ensure secure water supply for all Albertans.


The Irrigation Districts Act is considered by the SSRP to be one of the Alberta Government's legislation tools to protect and management the environment. The environment is a central element of the proposed SSRP. The SSRP states that the South Saskatchewan Region has more than 80% of the province's species at risk, and that local government bodies ought to consider the protection of species at risk in making water or land development decisions. This includes protection from environmental contaminants and the introduction of invasive species.

Water Quality

The SSRP is concerned about ensuring water quality. It sets out surface water quality triggers for tributaries of the South Saskatchewan and Milk Rivers. This is valuable. Part 5 of the SSRP's Regulatory Details Plan grants authority to a designated government minister to determine the measurement of contaminants as measured at a government water quality monitoring station, whether a water quality trigger has been exceeded and the duration that it has been exceeded. This determination is "final and binding" on the Crown, decision-makers, and local government bodies, including districts. By written notice, the minister may direct an affected local government body to take action to respond to any exceedance. The local government body is bound by the notice. There is a requirement upon an official within the designated minister's government department to initiate a management response to the trigger or limit being exceeded.

Due to the wide power of the designated minister to issue a notice of an exceedance to a district, there is concern that the minister could force a district to accept contamination of its water supply. For example, where a developer or municipality discharges wastewater or storm water, which exceeds prescribed limits, into irrigation infrastructure, minister could acknowledge the exceedance but notify an irrigation district not to take any action against the municipality, in essence granting the municipality a licence to pollute for a period of time. This binding notification provision may prevent a district from civilly recouping its damages from the polluter. For the sake of clarity, it would be useful if the SSRP regulation explicitly stated that a section 37 notice did not affect or remove an irrigation districts rights to seek civil damages and injunction relief against the polluter to protect its water supply and works. Interestingly, private irrigators, even those who receive licenced water through the works of the district, are not bound by a section 37 notice and presumably have a civil right of action against the polluter.

The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should be obtained.

© McMillan LLP 2014

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.