A new report by Canmore-based Water Matters recommends that Alberta’s water management system must change if Alberta’s rivers are to remain engines of economic prosperity, and essential sources of clean water and abundant wildlife. In Allocating Our Water: Changing to Meet the Public Interest, Water Matters staff concludes that Alberta’s existing policies, laws, and regulations are incapable of managing the increasing demands for water use, providing equitable access to water among users, and preserving the ecological services of our rivers.

“Without changing Alberta’s water management system to one that is more flexible and has more options, Albertans cannot achieve the goals in the Water for Life Strategy, and especially for the maintenance of healthy rivers,” said Julia Ko, manager of projects and communications for Water Matters in a release.

The report raises concerns about Alberta’s First In Time, First In Right (FIT-FIR) water rights system, which can be described as a “first-come, first-served” system. Authors write that this system provides limited opportunities to meet the needs of future users while ensuring rivers, lakes, and groundwater systems remain healthy.

According to Bill Donahue, Water Matters’ director of science and policy, “We need fundamental changes to our laws and policies that govern water management and an integration of land-use and watershed planning, to ensure that our rivers remain healthy in the future.” Discussions with major water users in Alberta described in the report also suggest that the provincial government must take a stronger role in the management and protection of Alberta’s aquatic ecosystems

In the report, Ko and Donahue provide ten recommendations to strengthen Alberta’s ability to achieve the goals of the Water for Life Strategy. Chief among these are enabling the reallocation of water rights for the protection of river health, ensuring water conservation objectives are based on robust scienctific assessments of instream flow needs, proceeding with a review of water licences, including clarifying criteria for their “good standing” and cancellation, and prescribing rules governing the sharing of water during droughts that prioritize basic human needs and protection of river health.

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