Additional Information

Aquatic Ecosystem: Components of the earth related to, living in, or located on water or its shores, including its organic and inorganic matter, living organisms and their habitats, and their interacting natural systems (Alberta Water Act).

Boil Water Advisory: A Boil Water Advisory is issued to either private individuals or the public in general advising that a specific water supply is unsafe for human consumption. The advisory will contain specific recommendations that individuals or the public in general may implement to protect public health (Alberta Health And Wellness, 2004).

Boil Water Order: A Boil Water Order is an Executive Officer’s Order issued pursuant to Section 62 of the Public Health Act. It is issued to the owner and/or the operator of a public or communal drinking water system and includes specific instructions that the owner and/or the operator must follow (ibid).

Consensus decision-making: Bringing together a group of people in an attempt to address the interests or concerns that underlie each party’s position. The focus is on finding solutions to the problems faced by each stakeholder so each participant can agree on a set of recommendations. While participants may not agree with every detail of the overall package, the result of a successful consensus is a set of decisions that everyone can “live with,” because it reflects the interests of each stakeholder. Agreements reached through a consensus exercise are likely to be more innovative and longer lasting than ones reached through traditional negotiation processes.

Cumulative effects: The environmental effects of an action in combination with the impacts of other past, existing and proposed actions

Disturbance: A disruption of existing conditions that causes the structure, processes and functions of an ecosystem to change (Alberta Water Council, 2008).

Groundwater: Water located in aquifer(s) that are either isolated from the surface, or where the subsurface soils act as an effective filter that removes micro-organisms and other particles by straining and antagonistic effect, to a level where the water supply may already be potable but disinfection is required as an additional health risk barrier.

Groundwater under the direct influence of surface water: A raw water supply, which is groundwater under the direct influence of surface water, means groundwater having incomplete or undependable subsurface filtration of surface water and infiltrating precipitation.

Household supply: The use of a maximum of 1250 cubic metres of water per year per household for the purposes of human consumption, sanitation, fire prevention and watering animals, gardens, lawns and trees. Generally, water for ‘household purposes’ cannot be licensed unless it is licensed as a community water supply. (Alberta Water Council, 2009)

Hydrological cycle: A process that involves precipitation, evaporation, evapotranspiration (from plants), condensation, infiltration and percolation (through the ground), water storage (in water bodies and in the ground) and surface runoff (North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance, 2008).

Precautionary principle: Recognizes that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone decisions when faced with the threat of serious or irreversible harm (Health Canada). Canada has a long-standing history of implementing the precautionary approach in science-based programs related to health and safety, environmental protection, and natural resources conservation.

Primary (wastewater) treatment: Screens and/or sedimentation are used to removes material that will float or readily settle out by gravity. (See also Secondary Treatment and Tertiary Treatment)

Resilience: The ability of an ecosystem to recover from a disturbance so as to retain essentially the same structure, processes and functions. When an ecosystem is disturbed and can still remain within the natural range of variability, it can be described as resilient (Alberta Water Council, 2008).

Return flow: Water that has been removed from a water source under a licence, is used in some way and is expected to be returned in whole or in part to a water body after use and may be available for reuse, although the water quality characteristics may have changed during use. Typical return flows include discharges from sewage treatment plants, runoff from irrigated fields and water discharged from cooling ponds. Return flow is currently an important part of the overall water balance (e.g. 29 per cent of the North Saskatchewan River is allocated, but net use is only about four per cent, thanks in large part to return flow). Return flow is sometimes also referred to as wastewater when contamination levels require approval under the Environment Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA).

Secondary (wastewater) treatment: When bacteria consume the organic matter that escapes primary treatment (e.g. the activated sludge process). This stage removes about 90 per cent of the biochemical oxygen demanding substances and suspended solids. (See also Primary Treatment and Secondary Treatment)

Source Water: Raw/untreated water received for treatment to provide potable water to municipal, industrial or private users. Sources may include high quality groundwater, groundwater under the influence of surface water and surface water from a lake, stream, river or watercourse (South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council, 2011).

Tertiary (wastewater) treatment: The advanced cleaning of wastewater. This stage removes nutrients such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and the remaining biochemical oxygen demand and suspended solids.

Stormwater: Managed rain or snowmelt in urban or developed areas that, in pre-development, ran off into lakes/streams and some of which infiltrated into the ground. In a sense, it is a rediverted part of the source of all the water the province licences under the Water Act.

Water Assignment: In times of shortage, a junior licence holder or registrant can enter into a temporary written agreement to borrow a senior priority (priority call) of another licence holder or registrant. However, the junior licence holder must take their allocation in accordance with the junior licence’s terms and conditions, i.e. amount, rate, timing, instream objectives, etc. Only unused portions of a licence can be assigned, which could be all or only a portion of the licence. Assignments are governed by Section 33 of the Water Act. No Director pre-approval is required; however, the assignment may be blocked by the Director if any other senior licensee, household, registrant or the environment is adversely affected by the assignment.  (Alberta Water Council, 2009)

Water conservation objective: As outlined in Alberta’s Water Act, a Water Conservation Objective is the amount and quality of water set by a director for the protection of a natural water body or its aquatic environment; the protection of tourism, recreational, transportation or waste assimilation uses of water; or the management of fish or wildlife, arrived at after consideration of science, ecosystems or instream flow needs and socio-economic considerations (Alberta Water Council, 2009).

Water Co-op: An organization formed by the individual lot owners serviced by a waterworks system, wastewater system or storm drainage system (Alberta Environment, 2006).

Water allocation:  specifies the volume (e.g., cubic metres, acre-feet), a maximum pump rate, and timing  of when a licensee is allowed to withdraw from a water source in a year.

Water Allocation Licence: The authorization of the allocation of crown-owned water from a specified source of water to a fixed location or project facility.

Water Allocation Transfer: A water allocation transfer occurs after the holder of an existing water withdrawal licence agrees to provide all or part of the amount they are allocated to another person or organization and Alberta Environment approves the transfer. When this occurs, the allocation is separated from the original land and a new licence, with the seniority of the transferred allocation, is issued and attached to the new location. Under the Water Act, Alberta Environment can place conditions on the new licence. Water allocation transfers can occur only if authorized under an Approved Water Management Plan, or by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

Water reuse: The multiple uses of water within a licence before return flow is calculated. The reuse of water for a variety of purposes may result in less fresh water diverted under the licence, and may result, but not always, in the reduction of return flow. Reuse is often an issue of health and managed under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

Water use: The combination of actual water consumption and losses, or the difference between the amount of water actually diverted and the return flow. Water use considerations include volume diverted in relation to allocation, the proportion of water use that is consumptive (not returned to the source), return flow volumes and seasonal variation.

Watershed: A watershed is an area of land that catches precipitation and drains it to a common point such as a wetland, lake, river, stream or groundwater aquifer (Alberta Water Council, 2008a).

Works Cited

  • Alberta Environment. (2006). Standards and Guidelines for Municipal Waterworks, Wastewater and Storm Drainage Systems.
  • Alberta Health And Wellness. (2004). Environmental Public Health Field Manual for Private, Public and Communal Drinking Water Systems in Alberta.
  • Alberta Water Council. (2008). Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems — A Working Definition.
  • Alberta Water Council. (2009). Recommendations for Improving Alberta's Water Allocation Transfer System.
  • Alberta Water Council. (2008a). Recommendations for a Watershed Management Planning Framework for Alberta.
  • North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance. (2008). Municipal Guide: Planning for a Healthy and Sustainable North Saskatchewan River Watershed.
  • South Saskatchewan Regional Advisory Council. (2011). Advice to the Government of Alberta for the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.

How much does Alberta have?

Photo Source: Government of Alberta. Facts About Water in Alberta. 2010

  • Alberta makes up over 11% of Canada’s population, but only has 2.2% of the country’s freshwater supply.
  • More than 80%t of Alberta’s water supply is concentrated in the far northern half of the province and 87% of surface water flows north to the Arctic Ocean, but 80% of the province’s water demand is in the south.
  • Some parts of Alberta have already been challenged by shortages in water supply as their populations grow, such as the areas around Lethbridge, Drumheller, and Medicine Hat.
  • Water quantity varies highly in Alberta, resulting in unpredictable events such flooding in southern Alberta coinciding with drought conditions in the north.

What does the future hold?

  • Alberta’s population is the fastest growing in Canada, increasing demand for water every year.
  • Glaciers and snowpacks in Alberta are melting earlier and faster as the world’s climate changes, potentially making our water supply increasingly unpredictable.
  • Precipitation is expected to become much more dynamic, meaning that both droughts and extreme storm events like flooding could become more common.
  • We currently take most of the water we use from surface supplies, but as those become less stable, we will likely take more from groundwater.
  • While deep groundwater can be cheaper to treat as it does not need to be filtered, aquifers can be depleted or contaminated if too much is drawn too fast or in the wrong way, rendering them unsuitable for our use.

What do we use water for?

  • A stable, plentiful water supply is essential to many of the province’s key industries including the agricultural and energy sectors.
  • The following sectors are allocated the largest volumes of water:
    • Irrigation 43.5%
    • Commercial Cooling (electricity generation) 23.5%
    • Municipal 11.3%
    • Industrial (Oil, Gas) 6.2%
    • Commercial 6%
  • There are over 187,500 water license holders in Alberta.