Water Quantity

Water is one of Alberta's most important renewable resources.

Alberta's surface water resources are located in glaciers, lakes and man-made reservoirs, or flow through the province's rivers and streams. Alberta has a good supply of surface water. However, because of geography, the distribution of our population, our climate, and natural variability in climatic cycles, some regions may experience water scarcity from time to time.

Most of Alberta's surface water resources are found in northern Alberta, while most of the population and agricultural/industrial demand occurs in the south. Although the overall demands on water are much higher in the southern part of the province, periodic dry spells can place hardships on water supplies anywhere in Alberta.

Groundwater is present in practically every part of the province, but aquifer depths, yields and potability vary widely. Because of the importance of water to humans and to the environment, Alberta Environment and Parks and its partners are active in monitoring and analyzing the past and present status of water supplies. Understanding the distribution and variability of water is critical for planning, managing and allocating water for human use while maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

The management and allocation of Alberta's water is becoming increasingly complex. The province must maintain a balance between the environment, the use of water, and the regulatory obligations to Alberta's provincial and U.S. state neighbours.

The science of water quantity is practiced by a variety of professionals including hydrologists, hydrogeologists, engineers, climatologists, meteorologists and technologists. Government agencies and university researchers have conducted much of the scientific investigation in the past, but watershed groups, industries and municipalities are becoming active partners in many studies and initiatives.

Compared to other parts of Canada, Alberta is a relatively dry place. Only about two per cent of Canada's water is found here. However, the water that Alberta does have is not distributed evenly across the province. The north-flowing river basins contain the majority of Alberta's water supply, yet the population resides mainly in the south. So, even though the Saskatchewan River basin has 88 per cent of our population, it contains only 13 per cent of Alberta's water.

In the face of increasing population and economic growth overall, this makes managing water wisely an important challenge. Issues related to the management, availability, use, and enjoyment of water in Alberta are ongoing. They change and evolve as science improves and as we learn more about our water systems. Programs and policies are under continuous review and examination by the department.


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Updated: Sep 9, 2016