C. Lacombe, Editor of Irrigating Alberta
Today, I went to rinse my coffee cup and no water came from the tap. This is
when water issues hit home for many Albertans; when it’s not there when
they expect it.
I have the great fortune of direct communication with municipal authorities,
so I know this is a temporary circumstance and, as inconvenient as it is, this
too shall pass.
What concerns me is that many of my neighbors will become angry and make much
noise regarding a broken water main, but urban residents’ knowledge of
true water issues and challenges within the province lacks substance.
Aging municipal infrastructure will not be what damages Alberta’s economy
in the future. When a person turns on a tap and nothing comes out, this is a
failure of man-made infrastructure. When a company or business cannot locate
in Alberta due to a drought in water availability, this is a provincial economy
There are literally hundreds of people in Alberta that see the possibility
of economic failure in our future if we don’t act now to protect our water
resources. This is a knowledge base asset Alberta leaders should embrace and
empower through legislation and funding for study, monitoring and protection.
Alberta needs strong legislation that links land use with watershed impacts.
Experts know that certain parts of a watershed play a disproportionate role
in the health of that watershed. They tell us to protect headwater and riparian
lands to ensure water quality and quantity. These people explain how natural
landscapes filter and store water during times of high water flow.
When our landscape experiences spring runoff and rains, healthy riparian areas
filter the water entering surface streams. This is also the time ground water
reservoirs receive replenishment through percolation as the landscape becomes
saturated. The high flow in the streams, rivers and into lakes allows the banks
to store water for later in the season when the weather gets hot and dry. None
of this can happen on pavement or denuded landscapes.
Further, we need to address the filth that runs off developed land straight
into surface streams. In Alberta, we do a good job of cleaning sewage before
it re-enters the natural water bodies with the exception of removing phosphorous.
Stormwater from urban areas contributes a long list of harmful substances to
our surface waters. In rural areas, stormwater inputs contribute agricultural
chemicals and manure; also high in phosphorous. We need to stop this unnecessary
We have a broad network of organizations and people in Alberta that bring much
expertise together to address water issues. The Bow River Basin Council (BRBC)
is one example. They are the Watershed Planning and Advisory Council (WPAC)
for the Bow River. They will create a watershed management plan through cooperation
of all stakeholders guided by a technical committee loaded with water experts.
However, the BRBC has no power to enact or enforce practice change in the watershed.
We have a WPAC for all major Alberta river basins, but they have no teeth.
With funds in place to continue study and monitoring, the science community,
water managers and provincial authorities could make sure we continually improve
our water management practices to reflect what we learn.
Often, what was a best management practice 10 years ago turns out to have unforeseen
impacts. For instance, irrigation districts began an aggressive program to increase
efficiencies 15 years ago. This resulted in irrigation districts reducing the
amount of water they take from the rivers. However, we didn't leave this water
in the river; it went to other users. Now, irrigation districts return less
water to our rivers and overall our rivers have less water.
This is why best management practices need room to evolve. The status quo will
never be a viable option.
We need to arrive at the day where every Albertan and our government recognize
that water and its protection are essential components of a healthy future for
our province. We need to put in place laws, policies and practices that undeniably
protect the natural functions of our water systems and we need to remain flexible.