Chris Godwaldt, Alberta WaterSMART
For ten years I travelled to various corners of the world designing water and
wastewater systems. The goal was to ensure a basic requirement for life was
available to all. Each country had its unique water challenges; from lack of
availability to quality, every project represented an opportunity to leave a
lasting effect on the region. Canada was my safe haven. Each time I returned,
I relished knowing I could simply turn on the tap to have a drink or brush my
teeth. I could also cup water with my hands from a stream midway through a hike.
I marvelled at our sparkling rivers after the sand dunes and deserts of the
Middle East. My Alberta seemed safe from experiencing the water issues I was
trying to solve around the world.
I returned from Dubai last fall to re-establish my roots in Alberta. With my
return came surprises. I discovered Alberta now has the same water scarcity
issues that I had been working to solve around the world. The stress to Alberta’s
water supply has become evident as three of our main rivers have recently been
closed to new water licences.
How was it that at the same time I was travelling around the world working
with water in areas where I could make a difference, that the problem was brewing
in my own backyard?
Around the world water connects us yet separates us at the same time. Both
physically and financially water is imperative for our survival and sustainability.
Each country I worked with was different. In Asia the issue is not quantity
but quality. In the Caribbean water is abundant but runs to the sea so fast
they have none. In the Middle East they simply do not have water and have to
desalinate it, or use water of extremely poor quality. Alberta’s issues
are different but just as pressing. At present we have great quality water.
We simply do no have enough to sustain our pace of development or maintain its
Luckily a few Albertans understand how important water is going to become to
us in the future and are putting their careers on the line for it. Kim Sturgess,
a successful entrepreneur and science wizard is doing just that with the formation
of Alberta WaterSMART, a not-for-profit society dedicated to the improvement
of water management awareness, technologies and practices in Alberta.
In a conversation that would indeed change my career focus, I learned Alberta
was actually at the point of closing three of of its main basins to new licences
because they were now fully allocated or even over allocated. My shock in this
statistic was enough to motivate me to immediately get involved.
In reflection the need to create Alberta WaterSMART made sense. The time to
act is now, not when we are in a crisis situation. When asked, did we not see
this coming?, The answer would probably land somewhere in-between yes and no.
Yes, it was bound to happen, but no, not this fast. As I thought about it, it
actually made a lot of sense. As the population expanded we eventually had to
reach a point where we could take no more from the rivers. We either had to
reduce consumption and recycle or divert current applications of water to other
uses. Today, I often ask a question to point out why we need to be proactive.
Which city will have the greatest water issues, Dubai, a city build in a desert
on the edge of the Persian Gulf, or Calgary? The answer: Calgary, because we
have a limited supply, while Dubai on the edge of the Gulf only has to expend
a little more energy to get more water.
Amazingly, Canadians are the second highest per capita consumers of water when
measured again 30 developed countries. We perceive water as an infinite resource,
like air. With the economic and population boom in Southern Alberta, the driest
part of the province, and rapid expansion of resource extraction in the north,
water has become a limiting factor in our sustainable development. As Canadians
we want to use our water resources wisely but today do not have the knowledge
to make the best choices. Further if we do not start making informed decisions
the decisions will be made for us. Water is a resource that Canadians want and
need to work on cooperatively with government, industry and concerned individuals.
The reasons behind my involvement and passion working with Alberta WaterSMART
are numerous. I believe only a Not-for-Profit has the ability to gain both the
confidence of Canadians and cooperation of stakeholders. It is a collaborative
model with a provincial focus. The mandate of the organization is to be inclusive
in everything we do because water affects us all. Our goal is to fill the knowledge
gap through programs such as the Water Portal, which is dedicated to the open
sharing of data, information and dialogue along with its Education Program and
make us leaders in water globally through the Deployment and Water VAC programs
which we as Canadian’s have the resources, desire and responsibility to
The good news is the opportunity for change has not dried up, but we must not
delay our efforts to manage water in Alberta. We have the opportunity to learn
from the rest of the world and understand the true value of this resource. We
can begin by implementing existing and common practices and technologies to
minimize our water consumption. Alberta with the support of Alberta WaterSMART
can become world leaders in the development of new sustainable water practices