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Blueprint Alberta: H20



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The Expert's Opinion

Economic drought - a real possibility
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 failure.

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 contamination.

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.

More Experts

David Pryce
Vice President, Western Canada Operations, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Camille Dow Baker
President & CEO of the Centre for Affordable Water & Sanitation Technology (CAWST)

Robert D. Tarleck
Mayor, City of Lethbridge

Oliver M. Brandes
Water Sustainability Project at the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance

Dr. Mary Griffiths
Senior Policy Analyst, The Pembina Institute

C. Lacombe
Editor of Irrigating Alberta

Mark Bennett
Bow River Basin Council

Chris Godwaldt
Alberta WaterSMART

Kerry Brewin
Senior Biologist with Dillon Consulting Limited

Kent Robinson
Acting CAO MD of Rocky View

Maureen Bell
Water Conservation Trust of Canada


The Best of Blueprint Alberta: H20 - Episode 1

The Best of Blueprint Alberta: H20 - Episode 2

The Best of Blueprint Alberta: H20 - Episode 3


Toilets manufactured between the 1950s and the 1980s typically use 20 litres per flush. Typical low-flow toilets use six litres per flush.

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