Water management is an important consideration in many roles within forestry. Since 2003, the forest industry has spent $5 billion to improve water use, and is involved in many partnerships and initiatives to monitor and manage the effects of industry on the aquatic environment.
An important element of forest planning is water modeling. This means that once a forest company knows where they plan to harvest, they use the most up to date scientific data to determine how harvesting will affect both water quality and quantity in streams. If water quality or quantity goals are not met, harvesting must be adjusted to meet targets.
Most of this work is done in conjunction with universities and research groups like the Foothills Research Institute, which is studying watercourse buffers. Their goal is to determine the ideal buffer size, shape, and location for all different kinds of water bodies.
The Southern Rockies Watershed Project is a research project conducted by the University of Alberta. It is the largest study of its kind worldwide, and examines how water flows change with large scale disturbance such as fire or harvesting.
The forest sector also engages in many research partnerships and is involved in projects such as the Ecosystem Management Emulating Natural Disturbance Project, which is a large-scale harvest experiment that tests the effects of residual forest structures on ecosystem integrity and forest regeneration.
Foresters use the most up to date research available from these types of projects to ensure healthy watersheds during and after harvesting.
Water is a key ingredient in the pulp making process. Our industry recognizes the importance of managing the cumulative impacts of development in Alberta’s watersheds. Our association produced a water conservation, efficiency, and productivity (CEP) plan, in support of Alberta’s Water for Life strategy. This plan was produced according to guidelines developed by the Alberta Water Council.
The CEP plan includes three goals:
- Keep water withdrawals and returns from Alberta’s pulp and paper mills at current or improved levels
- Utilize research and technology to improve productivity by 5% over the next decade
- Continue to work with partnerships to improve water quality and ensure aquatic ecosystems are healthy
Water Conservation: Any beneficial reduction in water use, loss, or waste. Water management practices that improve the use of water resources to benefit people or the environment.
Water Efficiency: Accomplishment of a function, task, process, or result with the least amount of water necessary. This is an indicator of the relationship between the amount of water needed for a particular purpose and the quantity of water used or diverted.
Water Productivity: The amount of water that is required to produce a unit of any good, service, or societal value.
Alberta’s pulp and paper mills are licensed to withdraw less than 1% of the annual river discharge, but actual water usage is far less than that. In working to meet the goals outlined by the CEP plan, our mills withdraw on average only 58% of their annual licensed volume.
Because most of the water that is withdrawn by these mills is treated and returned to the river, only about 7% of the water withdrawn is actually consumed by the process. By only withdrawing what is needed, and treating and returning 93% of water diverted, Alberta’s pulp mills are improving both conservation and efficiency.
While conservation and efficiency are important, improving productivity is also a goal of CEP planning. Productivity is measured as the number of cubic metres of water required to produce one dry metric tonne of pulp. In the latest reporting period in 2014, productivity improved to 48.6m3/tonne, achieving a 13% improvement since the baseline in 2009.
Did You Know?
Water pumped from the river is cleaned and often recycled several times to maximize efficiency. Prior to returning it to the river, the waste is treated. This might include settling out solids, cooling the water down, and using microscopic bugs to consume organic materials in the effluent (waste water). Interestingly, these biological solids are used for a variety of purposes.
Solids are used as:
- Nutrients to enhance agricultural crop and tree growth
- Soil remediation when combined with hydrocarbon contaminated soils
- Greenhouse potting soils after being composted
Alberta’s forest sector also actively participates in a variety of research initiatives and water partnerships including those with the provincial Alberta Water Council, and several regional Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs). Careful research and monitoring of the environmental effects of industry on landscape helps Alberta’s forest sector improve water quality and ensure aquatic ecosystems are healthy.
Alberta’s seven pulp and paper mills, located in the Peace and Athabasca watersheds, are world-leaders in water-use reduction technologies and process operations. They have reduced their water consumption, improved efficiency and productivity, and continue to work actively with partners to ensure the health of our aquatic ecosystems.
Take a deeper dive into sustainable water management and read the latest update on the Alberta Forest Sector Water Plan.