Alberta Announces Major Water Sharing Agreements

Apr 19, 2024

The Alberta government on Friday announced that municipalities, industry, and irrigation districts in the province have voluntarily agreed to reduce water usage in case of drought this spring or summer. 

A provincial release said 38 of the largest and oldest water licensees in southern Alberta have voluntarily agreed to the reductions. The groups represent up to 90% of the water allocated in the Bow and Oldman basins and 70% in the Red Deer River basin.  

The largest water-sharing agreements in the province’s 118-year history, the deals will let “more Albertans access water in a drought and reduce the negative impacts on communities, the economy and the environment,” the release said. 

The agreements are at the centre of Alberta’s drought response efforts. In 2001, agreements between southern irrigators and others played a key role in helping share water during that drought. This year’s agreements, facilitated by the Alberta government, are even bigger in scale and scope. 

There are four water-sharing agreements, one to cover each of sub-basins of the Red Deer River, the Bow River, the mainstem of the Oldman River and the upper tributaries of the Oldman River.  

Specific commitments are laid out in each individual Memorandum of Understanding, but participating municipalities will generally be asked to reduce water consumption by between 5% and 10%. “These are reasonable targets that can be achieved without affecting indoor water use,” the province said. 

Participating industries will use only the minimum volume of water practical to maintain safe, reliable operations. They will also look for additional water conservation opportunities. 

Irrigation districts will use less water and allow other users to get their water first, then use the remaining water available for licenced use. 

The agreements are designed to be proactive, risk-based and agile enough to be adjusted in real time as conditions change, the province said. Actual water amounts under the agreements will be updated every two weeks based on the latest water supply forecast. 

To support the commitments made by the province’s largest water users, the Alberta government said it will also be working with smaller licence holders in the subject basins to request that they implement drought response measures and make similar water conservation commitments. 

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