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Water Matters Develops Blueprint for Albertans to Achieve Their Water For Life Goals

Edmonton, Alberta — Decreased water availability is becoming the biggest challenge to Alberta’s ability to achieve the goals of Alberta’s Water For Life Program, which include maintaining clean drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and a sustainable economy. In the future, competing water demands by all sectors of Alberta’s economy and more frequent and severe droughts will only increase environmental risk and tensions between water users.


Today, Water Matters presented a number of options for improving management and allocation of water in Alberta. In the third of three reports on water management in Alberta, Moving Waters: Water Management Options to Achieve Social, Economic, and Environmental Goals, Water Matters warns of the exceptional risks associated with taking a “business-as-usual” approach to water management in Alberta, and highlights options available for sustainable, long-term water management.


“Severe droughts elsewhere have forced governments to basically throw out old water management policies and spend billions of dollars on emergency measures to buy back water rights and protect river health, because they had previously over-allocated rivers,” says Dr. Bill Donahue, Director of Science and Policy for Water Matters. “If we continue to take a business-as-usual approach to water management and water markets without adopting laws and policies that clearly lay out the priority of protecting our rivers, we may face similar emergency costs in the future because of drought and over-allocation.”


In Moving Waters, Water Matters illustrates how water markets and policies can make major water management challenges easier to overcome by prioritizing public-interest goals and river health over the needs of the private sector. This approach was successfully adopted in Oregon, resulting in major improvements in river health, water conservation, and sustainable development.  Alternatively, adoption of market mechanisms simply to facilitate the movement of water rights between users, such as in Australia and Texas, contributed to major water shortages and public expense.


“Alberta’s current policies and laws lack concrete objectives on how water will be managed for the public interest. This limits water users’ ability to act in ways that help to achieve all of the Water for Life goals,” says study co-author Julia Ko, “Adopting policies and laws that clearly lay out the government’s responsibilities and obligations to protect river health would also clarify the changes needed to sustainably manage movement of water between users and the environment.”


Water Matters’  goal with its three reports on water management in Alberta is to find ways to shift to science-based management of the use, allocation, and conservation of water to sustain and ensure a healthy environment, while also achieving our social and economic goals. After comparing the problems, failures, and successes in water management in Alberta with other jurisdictions, Donahue and Ko suggest that the first priority should be to adopt policies and laws governing water management, including water markets, that prioritize protection and enhancement of river health. 


Full Report



Dr. Bill Donahue

Director of Policy and Science


780-566-4680 (cell)



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