BY DR. NATHAN SCHMIDT, P.ENG.
In 2001 recognition of increased pressure on water supply
due to drought, development and population growth led the
Alberta government to kick off a series of consultations
with the general public and invited experts. In the April ’03
the APEGGA Environment Committee presented a position
paper outlining the Alberta regulatory framework and providing
general as well as specific recommendations to strengthen
the delivery of safe drinking water to Albertans.
The result of this consultation process is Water for Life:
Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability, released in
The three main goals of the strategy are
• a safe, secure drinking water supply
healthy aquatic ecosystems
reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.
Successful implementation of the strategy’s new directions,
along with existing regulatory tools, will achieve these
goals. Actions planned over the next 10 years focus on three
• knowledge and research
APEGGA members will have the opportunity to take on key
roles in these activities.
Comprehensive and accurate information about Alberta’s
water resources is required as a basis for sound decision-making.
A large body of data exists, but much of it is currently
fragmented or unavailable to the public. Similarly, ongoing
research is often not coordinated between different regions
Knowledge and Research
Strategic actions for knowledge and research focus on data
collection, analysis and dissemination. A multi-disciplinary
water research centre is planned to undertake and coordinate
research and a water information centre will make data
available to the public to support watershed protection
The ultimate goals are:
• to develop a comprehensive understanding of the
state of water quantity and quality of all surface water
and groundwater sources
to develop a comprehensive understanding of the state of
aquatic ecosystems in Alberta
to establish a waterborne health surveillance and reporting
to ensure a water allocation transfer system compatible with
APEGGA members will participate in – and benefit from – planned
knowledge and research activities. Members are currently
involved in provincewide assessments of water treatment facilities.
Members in government, academia and consulting will play
a lead role in research and watershed planning.
More comprehensive and accessible data and research results
will help members undertake water-related projects. A greater
understanding of the natural variables associated with a
project will increase the level of confidence in impact assessment,
design criteria and proposed environmental mitigation and
compensation measures, with resulting economic and health
benefits to the public.
Partnerships with Albertans are a key feature of Water for
Life. Though the government will remain accountable and oversee
all water-related activities, it will share responsibility
with the public through information sharing, advice and collaboration
at watershed and sub-watershed scales. A Provincial Water
Advisory Council will oversee the implementation of the strategy
and work closely with the government and other partners.
A number of community-based Watershed Planning and Advisory
Councils will work with the government to apply adaptive
management to watershed evaluation and planning, foster stewardship
activities and educate water users. Partnerships will also
be formed with Watershed Stewardship Groups, made up of volunteer
citizens, which will participate in water management and
education at a sub-watershed scale.
Strategic actions for partnerships focus on establishing
councils and developing sustainable regional water systems
and management plans for all watersheds across the province.
Shared responsibility, use of outcome-based approaches and
local collaboration in service delivery are key features
of these activities.
APEGGA members in government will play key roles in watershed
management decisions, and members are encouraged to participate
in advisory councils and stewardship groups as professionals
and citizens. We can provide expertise to help groups understand
the effects of development on natural systems and develop
innovative solutions for conflicts between nature and development.
Members can take on leadership roles in their communities
by participating in these groups.
Water conservation is fundamental to the water strategy,
in light of population growth, agricultural and industrial
development, and the effects of drought. Industrial and
agricultural activities currently account for 86% of surface
water usage and over 50 per cent of groundwater usage in
Alberta. Some watersheds have licensed allocations that
approach the mean annual flow of the river.
In 1991, 61.6 per cent of the mean annual flow of the Bow
River (see accompanying graphic) was licensed for use, 37.8
per cent was withdrawn and 27.4 per cent was consumed. A
large proportion of domestic water is returned to receiving
streams after treatment, so while there are conservation
opportunities related to municipal systems, the strategy
will focus primarily on consumptive uses by industry and
Strategic actions for water conservation include establishing
systems to monitor and report water usage. Licensed water
users seldom use their full allocation. However, with the
exception of some large industrial users, actual usage is
Other initiatives include assessing the true value of water
in the provincial economy, preparing water conservation plans,
evaluating and implementing economic instruments for conservation,
and establishing a public education and awareness program.
APEGGA members have an opportunity to take a lead role in
developing water conservation measures for the agriculture,
oil and gas, manufacturing, mining and forestry sectors.
By developing innovative methods to reduce water usage, we
can provide economic benefit to the public and reduce effects
on the environment.
Implementation of the strategy for water resources sustainability
over the next decade will result in major changes to the
way water is managed in Alberta. You are encouraged to become
familiar with the strategy’s goals and planned actions
to see how you can participate as a professional and as a
member of the public.
Dr. Nathan Schmidt, P.Eng., is a senior water resources
engineer with Golder Associates. His projects include river
engineering, geomorphology, mine water management, and environmental
impact assessments for oilsands and diamond mines.
Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth in a series
presented by APEGGA’s Environment Committee regarding
the role of professional members in sustainability, climate
change impact and adaptation. The committee provides professional
direction and leadership in environmental issues for members.
The articles – addressing industry-specific initiatives,
international initiatives and regulatory considerations – are
meant to raise the level of awareness and generate discussion.
The opinions expressed by the author are his own and not
necessarily those of APEGGA.
How Alberta professionals deal with the Bow River Watershed,
above, and other watersheds in Alberta is critical to the
success of Water for Life: Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability.
-Graphic courtesy the Bow River Basin Council and Prairie
Farm Rehabilitation Administration