Water for Life and Climate Change

We are already seeing the effects of climate change. Several years of reoccurring drought is perhaps the most visible impact of shifting climatic patterns. A shortage of water makes water management a crucial part of protecting both the environment and the economy in Alberta.

The information assembled by watershed management plans, groundwater research, ongoing water conservation measures taken by industry, and Albertans themselves, contribute to building Alberta’s climate change strategy.

Under the Water for Life action plan there is a commitment to address the water management and policy risks associated with changing future water supply resulting from impacts of changing climate regimes. The first step is to develop future hydro-climate scenarios for major watersheds. To meet this, the Government of Alberta has established a work plan for climate change adaptation as it affects water supply.

Alberta Environment and Parks has identified projects to be undertaken for the major basins in the province. Some of this work is being jointly funded by Natural Resources Canada through the Prairies Regional Adaptation Collaborative.

This includes:

  • Future hydro-climate scenarios: This work applies consistent methodology and hydrologic models to simulate the effects of forecasted future climate scenarios on surface water supplies in Alberta’s major rivers.
  • Climate variability analysis: Climate variability analysis is still a developing science and Alberta is particularly vulnerable to the occurrence and frequency of extremes – e.g. drought or flood. Prairie climate is more often characterized by wet or dry years, rather than an "average" condition. Understanding the full range of historical variability along with the possible implications of climate change superimposed on naturally occurring cycles will increase Alberta’s adaptive capacity.
  • Water demand: Building on existing current use and future water demand projections completed in Alberta in 2007, water use projections will be reviewed, updated, and extended by the department to assess potential vulnerability in water supplies, not only due to the possible impacts of climate change, but also due to growing populations and economy.
  • Water deficits: Once the future hydro-climate scenarios, the climate variability, and the water demand assessments are completed for each basin the synthesis of the work will take the information from each study phase and assemble a picture of potential water deficits into the future. The information will provide planners and managers with possible pinch points, as well as an idea of the range and magnitude of possible deficits.
  • Pilot projects - Socio-economic implications of climate change: Though the climate scenarios (supply) and the water demand work will give an idea of potential water deficits into the future under a range of scenarios, in reality there is a complex feedback between climate and socio-economic activities and norms.

Understanding the complex behavioural and economic interactions will help to identify possible structural changes to economic activity or shifts in patterns of human migration over time. Because this work is pioneering, it will be piloted in a single major basin of Alberta, likely the North Saskatchewan, to develop and refine the methodology before extending it to other river basins.


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Updated: Aug 18, 2015