With available fresh water resources expected to decrease as a result of climate change, Alberta faces the challenge of meeting its growing demand for water in a sustainable manner, according to a new report by the Pembina Institute.
“We need to plan ahead and consider the impact that climate change is likely to have on fresh water resources in Alberta,” says Mary Griffiths, the lead author of the report, Heating Up in Alberta: Climate Change, Energy Development and Water.
The report draws attention to the decline of summer river flows, the future effects of climate change on water supply and the projected growth in demand for water for energy production and to meet the needs of a growing population. It also documents Alberta’s contribution to climate change through growing greenhouse gas emissions, which the Government of Alberta will allow to continue to increase through 2020.
“This report should encourage efforts to reduce water use for energy production,” says Griffiths. “It may also motivate greater action in Alberta to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Griffiths says new ways must be found to reduce water consumption for the production and upgrading of bitumen from the oil sands. “Reducing water consumption is especially important when developing new, large-scale projects for electricity generation and bitumen extraction, which are likely to be in operation for 40 years or more.”
Water use for electricity can be reduced by increasing the proportion generated by wind or solar sources. Coal-fired power plants, which produce 60 per cent of Alberta’s electricity, consume a lot of water compared with most other types of electricity generation. They are also the largest contributor to Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions. The report also recommends charging for water used by the energy sector.
“Putting a price on water for energy use serves two purposes,” says Griffiths. “It would encourage conservation and also provide funds for better monitoring and management of surface and groundwater resources, as well as research.”