Environmental Flows Projects

Below are summaries for environmental flows projects taking place in the following areas in Alberta:

  • Alberta, province-wide
  • Athabasca River
  • Highwood River
  • Lesser Slave Lake and Lesser Slave River
  • North Saskatchewan River
  • Red Deer River
  • South Saskatchewan River Basin

Alberta, province-wide

Alberta Province-wide Environmental Flows (Instream Flow Needs) Guideline

A copy of the guideline and factsheet can be downloaded from the following page on Alberta’s Water for Life website at:

When humans decide to take water from the aquatic ecosystem for their own needs, determining how much water that must remain to meet the river's needs is a difficult and complex question. In Alberta, there are many instances where there is good hydrologic data but little to no biological data.

The Alberta Government has developed a desktop method to determine environmental flows (instream flow needs) using readily available hydrology data. This method

  • assists Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) with the task of recommending environmental flow requirements in Alberta’s rivers and streams where no site-specific environmental flow data exist
  • is used by Alberta Environment in their consideration of issuing new water licences

The guideline is based on the latest scientific understanding of aquatic ecosystems and processes from site-specific instream flow needs studies carried out on rivers in the province and elsewhere.

The guideline is not designed to allow for detailed analysis of alternative flow regimes. It sets an environmental flow recommendation that provides for the full protection of the aquatic ecosystem.

Athabasca River

Lower Athabasca River Water Management Framework

The Surface Water Working Group of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) led a comprehensive multi-year effort to determine environmental flows and subsequently recommend a water management framework for the lower Athabasca River.

For a series of technical reports as well as the Phase II Framework Committee’s final water management framework recommendation report, visit the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) website at:

NOTE: Accessing the reports requires registration with the CEMA datasets library:

Highwood River

The Highwood River Instream Flow Needs Study was the first of its kind carried out in Alberta to:

  • have multi-stakeholder participation
  • incorporate the higher or channel forming flows
  • specify a comprehensive Ecosystem Base Flow (i.e. a low flow below which any water withdrawals would not meet ecosystem objectives), and
  • be based on the natural flow regime.

The environmental flow needs recommendation was based on the objective of providing a high level of protection for the Highwood River ecosystem, and to meet the Fisheries Management Branch objectives for the Highwood River.

Lesser Slave Lake and Lesser Slave River

Water Management Plan – Phase 1: Lesser Slave Lake and Lesser Slave River Basins

The Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council has developed an interim Phase 1 water management plan for Lesser Slave Lake and River. To review the report for this project, visit the Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council website at:

Water Management Plan – Phase 2: Lesser Slave Lake and Lesser Slave River Basins

The Phase 2 water management plan is to include input from the ongoing environmental flow studies on the river and water-level knowledge regarding the lake.

Public and stakeholder concerns regarding Lesser Slave Lake include:

  • Fish habitat quality
  • High and low water levels
  • Lake eutrophication
  • Siltation and sediment infilling

The IFN Technical Advisory Team was charged with the task of developing a scope of work report to address lake level requirements for Lesser Slave Lake.

A number of recommendations that could be implemented as part of the management plan for lake water levels in Lesser Slave Lake are being considered by the Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council. Similar to the river, a scope of work document was developed to understand water-level needs for Lesser Slave Lake.

Lesser Slave River Instream Flow Needs Scoping Study

The appointed Watershed Planning and Advisory Council for the Lesser Slave Lake and River watershed, the Lesser Slave Watershed Council, developed an instream flow needs scope of work report for the Lesser Slave River.

An Instream Flow Needs Technical Advisory Committee, struck by the Lesser Slave Watershed Council, was formed to develop an environmental flow recommendation that provides full, long-term protection to the aquatic ecosystem for the Lesser Slave River.

Based on the work plan, several field studies are underway or have been completed on the river including two-dimensional hydraulic modelling and habitat analysis. It is expected development of the environmental flow recommendation will be a multi-year project.

To review the reports for this project, visit the Lesser Slave Lake Watershed Council website at:

North Saskatchewan River

North Saskatchewan River Instream Flow Needs Scoping Study

The appointed Watershed Planning and Advisory Council for the North Saskatchewan River, the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, developed a detailed instream flow needs scope of work report for the North Saskatchewan River.

The Fish and Wildlife Division of Sustainable Resource Development provided oversight for this study through its participation on the technical team.

To review the report for this study, visit the North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance website at:

Red Deer River

With Alberta Environment, we developed a method for evaluating impacts to the aquatic environment for various flow scenarios on the Red Deer River.

The report outlines the methods and predicted environmental impacts.

South Saskatchewan River Basin

South Saskatchewan River Basin Study

The South Saskatchewan River Basin study examined a number of main stem reaches of the following waterbodies:

  • Belly River
  • Bow River
  • Oldman River
  • Red Deer River
  • South Saskatchewan River proper
  • St. Mary River
  • Waterton River

The study looks at four components of the aquatic ecosystem:

  • Channel maintenance
  • Fish habitat
  • Riparian vegetation
  • Water quality

Based on hydrographic information (a graphical representation of the characteristics of the water such as flow, stage, velocity etc), the study analyzes:

  • seasonal patterns and general changes in magnitude
  • frequency
  • timing
  • duration of the natural flow

These considerations are required to maintain intra-annual (within a year), and inter-annual (between years) changes of flow.

The intent of the study was to provide an environmental flows recommendation based on the objective to fully protect the aquatic ecosystem.

To review a report on the study, visit the Alberta Environment website at:

 

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Updated: Feb 25, 2016