Water Management

Where we are today

Albertans take water from rivers, lakes and aquifers for a variety of human purposes – commercial, industrial, power generation, agriculture, municipal and household use.

Water diversions are managed through licences issued under the Water Act, which specify the amount of water that is allowed to be withdrawn. This amount may vary each year based on factors like weather conditions.

Many licence holders also return a portion of the diverted water back to the water source. For example, municipalities treat and return 80-90 per cent of their original water diversion. Water quality guidelines for treated wastewater are managed under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

Alberta’s "first in time, first in right" allocation system has served Albertans well for more than 100 years. This means that during times of scarcity, senior (older) licence holders can access a portion of their water allocation before junior (more recent) licence holders.

Alberta uses other strategies to manage water including; encouraging high water users to conserve water, setting the quantity and quality of water in our water bodies, and setting clear directions on how to manage water.

While these strategies are helpful, several things make it necessary to consider further action: water scarcity, long-term growth, river basin diversity, and allocation realities.

Preparing for tomorrow

A growing water demand and changing climate means Alberta must adapt and prepare to effectively address future challenges.

We can do more to optimize our water supplies while remaining committed to some fundamental principles that underlie Alberta’s current approach, such as:

  • "First in time, first in right" priority allocation approach will not change.
  • Alberta will not sell water beyond our borders.
  • Alberta will respect obligations under existing transboundary agreements.
  • Inter-basin transfers will only be authorized under a special Act of the Legislature.

Several water optimization strategies have been suggested by stakeholders:

  • Establishing protected water;
  • Optimizing water storage;
  • Facilitating water allocation transfers;
  • Strengthening water conservation;
  • Leveraging regional planning; and
  • Expanding transparency and open data.

Pursuing a water optimization approach would have some implications, including:

  • Changing the way we use water.
  • Investments to construct or upgrade facilities.
  • Collaborate with licence holders to optimize unused water.
  • Legislative changes and policy enhancements.

Next Steps

Discussion guide

The consultation phase is now over.

Ideas shared during the community sessions, through emails and online workbook submissions are compiled into a Summary of Discussions report and led to the creation of the Water Conversation Action Plan. To review these documents, see:

Thank you for taking the time to join the Water Conversation.


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Updated: Jul 12, 2018