Water for Life
Alberta Strategy Has Implications for APEGGA Members and the Public


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 PEGG,

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 November 2003.

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 core areas:

• knowledge and research
• partnerships
• water conservation.

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 and disciplines.

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 and planning.
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 system
• to ensure a water allocation transfer system compatible with sustainable development.

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
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 agriculture.

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 not reported.

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.


Visit www.waterforlife.gov.ab.ca.


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

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