Edmonton, Alberta — In Alberta, we rely our rivers for recreational opportunities, like fishing and canoeing, and for clean, safe water supplies for our drinking water and economic development. Water Matters has released a detailed blueprint about how to use science-based management to ensure that Alberta’s rivers remain healthy, and economically and culturally beneficial over the long term. The first of three reports about water management in Alberta, Maintaining Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems by Protecting Instream Flow Needs provides clear, achievable recommendations for improving river and watershed management in Alberta.

River health in much of Alberta has been declining because of land-use changes, dam construction, and surface and groundwater withdrawals. “In most cases, decisions are made on a piece-meal, project-by-project basis, and without any consideration of cumulative effects of regional human activities, or the serious threat that climate change poses to Alberta’s water supplies,” says Dr. Bill Donahue, Director of Science and Policy for Water Matters, an Alberta-based water policy think tank.  “The result is that many of our rivers have been dying a slow death by a thousand cuts, and we remain unprepared for significant future droughts.”

In 2003, Alberta adopted its Water for Life Strategy, which includes clearly defined goals to maintain safe, secure drinking water for Albertans, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and reliable, high-quality water supplies for a sustainable economy. All three goals encompass a public interest in sustainable, healthy water supplies and aquatic ecosystems. Unfortunately, decision-making in Alberta tends to prioritize short-term economic considerations over environmental sustainability. Our laws and regulations also tend to water down environmental assessment and protection, increasing the likelihood of failing to achieving the Water for Life goals. “The degree to which we protect and preserve river health will determine our success in achieving the goals of the Water for Life Strategy,” says Julia Ko, Project Coordinator for Water Matters and report co-author.

In Maintaining Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems, Water Matters illustrates how Albertans can achieve the goals laid out in the Water for Life Strategy. The first recommendation is to adopt a science-based framework for decision making that prioritizes the maintenance of river health in watershed planning. Other recommendations include amending the Water Act to clearly define science-based water conservation objectives, as well as allowing unused water allocations to remain in rivers to maintain environmental health.

Maintaining Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems by Protecting Instream Flow Needs is part of an innovative project to engage stakeholders in discussions that explore the policy and operational opportunities for improving water management in Alberta. The goal is to find ways to shift to science-based management of the use, allocation, and conservation of water in ways that sustain and ensure a healthy environment now and in the future, while also supporting our social and economic goals.

Download Sharing our Rivers: How Albertans can Maintain Healthy Rivers, Communities, and Economies (PDF)


Dr. Bill Donahue
Director of Policy and Science
780-566-4680 (cell)