CALGARY – Alberta needs to take bold steps to revise its water rights system if it is to address the challenge of a shrinking water supply in the face growing demands across the province, according to a new report. In a press conference at the Calgary Area Outdoor Council this morning, Ecojustice and Water Matters released the report, Share the Water, that proposes changes to Alberta’s hundred-year-old water laws and calls on the provincial government to adopt a more equitable and responsible approach to water allocation.

“The current water allocation system in Alberta was designed in a time of water abundance and limited users,” says Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson “It does not reflect the modern realities of water use, population growth and climate change in the 21st century.”

The existing water system in Alberta, designed in the late 1800s, is based on First in Time, First In Right (FITFIR) giving priority to the most senior licences (generally those issued before 1950) in times of water shortage. However, many communities with junior licenses in southern Alberta are expected to run out of water in the next 5 to 10 years. The current “first come, first serve” system does not protect drinking water or the environment during times of drought.

The report also highlights the threats posed by Alberta’s emerging water market. Where new surface water allocations are no longer issued, as in the Oldman, Bow and South Saskatchewan river basins, those seeking water permits to accommodate the growth of a community are forced to bid for them in the open market, often against wealthy corporations, because no further allocations can be given.

“Without a solid plan that secures water for people and the environment, it’s unacceptable for Alberta to drift into a de facto water market that puts profits ahead of the right of Albertan’s to drinking water and healthy aquatic ecosystems,” says Danielle Droitsch of Water Matters.

The Share the Water report calls on the provincial government to:

  • Create protection of adequate instream flows to conserve aquatic ecosystems
  • Give priority of water to basic human needs
  • Integrate water and land use management plans
  • Develop equitable sharing of water in times of shortage
  • Share the Water arrives just as the Alberta government is about to embark on a review of the
  • province’s water allocation system.

The government has indicated that it will provide an opportunity for public input this fall.