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Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems

Water Matters promotes the implementation of healthy aquatic ecosystems through strong management and responsible stewardship.

Aquatic ecosystems are living systems in and around water. They provide immense value to both human and nonhuman systems and beings. They provide drinking water and water for social and economic purposes, assimilate our waste, and provide the setting for recreational activities. Water is an essential input for riparian vegetation and habitat for fish and wildlife.

Albertans understand that healthy aquatic ecosystems are fundamental to our social and economic health. In a telephone survey conducted by Alberta Environment, 87 percent of Albertans agreed or strongly agreed with the following statement, "If there are water shortages in the future, the Province should put a higher priority on preserving natural aquatic environments, even if this limits economic growth and jobs." Accordingly, securing healthy aquatic ecosystems is a goal under the province’s Water for Life strategy.

Water Matters has identified protecting instream flow needs as a core priority. Water quantity is important in its own right. Flowing water is essential for fish health, wildlife protection, riverbank maintenance, water quality, recreation, and the simple esthetic enjoyment of a river. Rivers need a guaranteed current so that fish can swim and breathe, and to assure river bank vegetation has wet roots throughout the season. A significant depletion of water in a river can effectively "collapse" that ecosystem.

The quantity of water flowing through a river significantly influences water quality, temperature, nutrient cycling, oxygen availability, and the processes that shape river channels and floodplains. With sufficient and variable flows, healthy rivers provide homes for a rich diversity of fish and other aquatic species, including native species.

Implementation of specific and concrete actions to achieve healthy aquatic ecosystems has stalled as government gathers information and knowledge. Decision-support tools based on this knowledge are necessary for planning and setting priorities and objectives within watersheds and to achieve medium- and long- term actions outlined in Water for Life.

Source: Alberta Water Council (AWC). 2007. Review of Implementation Progress of Water for Life, 2005-2006. Alberta Water Council: Edmonton.