River Basin Benefits from Collective Approach to Water Management

Aug 17, 2017

A collaborative approach to water management has led to a new roadmap for how Alberta can sustainably manage the complexities of its water supply and demand for future generations.

Experts from throughout the South Saskatchewan River Basin have developed a fact-based, operational
model to address stresses facing the watershed: a growing economy; expanding population; shifting climate patterns; and the increased impact these factors have on the health of the watershed.

The newly developed South Saskatchewan River Operational Model (SSROM) project was supported by $1.8 million in funding from Alberta Innovates (AI), $1.6 million from the Climate Change and Emissions
Management Corporation (now ERA), and contributions from participants including the Government of Alberta. Alberta WaterSMART has led this integrated approach since 2008 involving multiple sectors:
recreation; agriculture; resource industries; municipalities; government and NGO’s.

People came to the table because they recognized an opportunity to address these challenges by looking at the river system as a whole to better understand its users and their various perspectives. They had a shared interest, they were trusting and transparent, and once you have that you can objectively assess ways to change and improve the system.Megan Van Ham, Director of Programs, Alberta WaterSMART

The Adaption Roadmap for Sustainable Water Management in the South Saskatchewan River Basin Project Final Report outlines strategies for the overall basin including the Bow, Oldman, Red Deer, and South Saskatchewan rivers. The roadmap includes the need for a long-term management agreement with TransAlta for the Bow River upstream of Calgary, optimizing use of existing irrigation reservoirs, developing shortage sharing frameworks and restricting development on floodplains. The final report was presented to the Government of Alberta; some recommendations are already in progress.

“We were successfully able to connect ideas, technology, and best practices with the people that need to solve problems,” said Brett Purdy, Executive Director, Water and Environmental Management, Alberta Innovates. “Putting these models in place, collecting the data together, allows us all to understand opportunities and impacts in an integrated and comprehensive way.”

The SSROM allows stakeholders to test scenarios to see where one need is met, how it affects others. While most of the work revolved around drought mitigation, the 2013 Alberta flood challenged the working groups to also determine how to manage too much water. For instance, if reservoirs are lowered, how will that affect hydropower generation and water storage for agriculture production?
The process was deemed so much of a success that it will be piloted to address issues of water management on other river systems, including the Athabasca.

“We want our river systems to be healthy and wild, but we also want to support and encourage economic and social growth. To balance those needs you need resident expertise collectively identifying promising opportunities,” said Van Ham. “Alberta Innovates has been incredible in supporting this project, and others that have led up to it, and that investment is truly paying off with high functioning working groups supported by facts and models that can be put to any challenge.”