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Maintaining Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems: Operational and Policy Recommendations for Instream Flow Needs

Maintaining Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems: Operational and Policy Recommendations for Instream Flow Needs

In this report, we discuss a foundational set of solutions to enhance recognition and protection of water for instream flow needs, so sustained, healthy rivers will continue to benefit Albertans in the future. Science-based provincial policy, legislation, and regulations are fundamental for integrated and sustainable water resource management, and critical to fulfill the social, environmental, and economic goals for Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy. 


Because instream flow needs are required to protect healthy aquatic ecosystems and human well-being, they are fundamental for safeguarding equitable water sharing and sustaining water for the public interest so we all benefit from ecosystem services. They also are critical for long-term, sustainable economic development of industries that rely on our water resources.


Here, we examine the rationale for an Alberta instream flow needs policy in general, and specifically identify and address gaps in current policy and legislation. We also discuss the important components of science-based instream flow needs and how to achieve them. We then present a summary of our discussions on the importance of instream flow needs with major water users from a variety of sectors, including irrigation, oil and gas, municipalities, hydropower, and water utilities. Finally, we explore policy solutions to water shortages developed in other jurisdictions that should be considered by the Government of Alberta and Albertans, as well as some operational options for increasing volumes of water in the strained South Saskatchewan River Basin.


In the future, Alberta could conceivably face substantial new costs and major economic losses if it does not clearly prioritize long-term recovery or protection of river health as a primary purpose underlying its water management laws and policies — including any water market — and introduce market limits and incentives that are strictly intended to enhance recovery and protection of river health. Similarly, Alberta must integrate watershed and land-use planning in a way that seriously considers approving new water-dependent development only in parts of the province where risks of future water shortages are low. Ultimately, Albertans must carefully consider options and approaches that combine both market and policy changes if they desire a future that includes safe, secure drinking water supplies, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and reliable water supplies for a sustainable economy.



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