Before and after: How long it takes to reclaim the land after construction (part 2)

Last week, in part 1 of our series on reclamation, we talked about what reclamation is, and what’s involved. This week, we continue our conversation with Joanne Widmer, senior environment advisor with TransCanada Corporation, to learn more about how pipeline companies restore the land after constructing a pipeline.

How long does land reclamation take?

The process can take anywhere from months to years depending on the project size, type and level of disturbance and the natural landscape challenges a project may face.

“For example,” said Joanne, “annual cropping can resume immediately following the activity or the very next growing season. Prairie environments may take up to five years, depending on various factors such as the amount of precipitation in subsequent years and the influence of livestock and wildlife (e.g. trampling or eating the vegetation before it can establish).”

Regardless, pipeline companies continue to monitor and adjust the reclamation program as needed to ensure recovery is achieved. Joanne explained that TransCanada generally applies a tiered approach, monitoring the following elements:

  • Landscape assessment
  • Vegetation monitoring
  • Soil assessment
  • Watercourse assessment
  • Wetland assessment

How is land reclamation regulated?

Reclamation success is monitored by the respective regulatory agency. There are specific reporting requirements, which may be outlined in a project approval.

Joanne said that TransCanada carries out post-construction reclamation programs that continue until the site is considered successfully reclaimed. Reports are submitted to the regulator, as required, as evidence that reclamation measures are being proactively and successfully managed.

The regulator may also conduct audits or inspections to verify this. If they find any sites showing signs of erosion, weed infestations or insufficient vegetation re-establishment, for example, the pipeline operator is required to submit subsequent reclamation plans that are monitored until deemed successful by the regulator.

The company will continue to monitor the right-of-way throughout the operating life of the pipeline to identify and address potential concerns.

What you should know as a landowner

Finally, Joanne stressed that landowners should understand that reclamation plans are developed with respect for the land and the land users in mind. “Lands disturbed during a project are reclaimed with the goal of maintaining equivalent land capability,” she said.

Equivalent land capability means that it can support various land uses that are similar, but not necessarily identical, to those before the pipeline project began. Pipeline companies will monitor the land to ensure this goal is achieved.

Stay tuned for more posts in this pipeline reclamation series, in which we will look at some specific projects and their outcomes.

If you would like to know more about pipeline reclamation, check out these previous blog posts:

  • Meet a pipeline professional who’s helping protect the environment
  • Spotlight on Saskatchewan: where pipelines meet conservation trails
  • How this pipeline employee is helping protect ecosystems in B.C.