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Blueprint Alberta: H20



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The Expert's Opinion

Connected by water, separated by distance
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 quality.

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 undertake.

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 and technologies.

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


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The longest river in Canada is the Mackenzie River at 4,241 kilometres.

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