Learn: Where Does Alberta's Water Come From?

This section is dedicated to providing science-based research to answer: where does all that water come from? Earth is a closed system, meaning the amount of water on Earth will never change. In the water cycle, water builds as condensation in clouds forms resulting in precipitation. When there is too much water, or when water can’t be absorbed into the land, different sources collect and transfer the water. Examples of these sources include any water formation such as groundwater, creeks, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. When the sun comes out, the heat makes plants transpire and waterways evaporate which causes the clouds to fill with condensation and the cycle begins again. Thie following sections dig deeper into the topic providing modules, research papers, articles and illustrations. 



 A watershed is a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water. Click here for a map of Alberta`s Watersheds


The icefields and mountain glaciers of Alberta are situated on the continental divide and the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Glaciers act as natural reservoirs for snow, ice, and meltwater. On seasonal time scales, ice melt and temporary meltwater storage within a glacier lead to large amounts of late-summer discharge. In many alpine streams this is the sole source of baseflow in late summer and early fall, after the seasonal snowpack has melted away. Click here for modules with information on Alberta`s Glaciers.  


In Alberta, many industries, communities and rural residents rely on this resource to sustain life and the economic activities on the landscape that make Alberta one of the most prosperous provinces. The volumes of groundwater associated with each major water-bearing formation are immense when compared (or in comparison) to the current volumes of usage and allocation. The following Groundwater modules are meant to provide some background on the nature of groundwater. It is also meant to stimulate additional thought regarding strategic use and management of this precious resource to ensure sustainable growth and continued opportunities for future generations.


Forests play a key role in governing the hydrologic cycle though interception of precipitation, evapotranspiration, snowmelt regulation, and soil moisture withdrawals. Forests present a valuable function to the hydrological cycle that, if interrupted or removed, can have significant impacts on the overall environment. For example, forest disturbances such as wildfires, harvest practices, and insects in Alberta and throughout the world result in greater runoff and water quality issues. These forest disturbances threaten the overall health of forest ecosystems. To address these issues, improved forest and watershed management can be pursued to improve current forestry practices and ensure the future health of our forests.  

Click here for more information on Water and Forests. 


What are Dams and Reservoirs?

Dams are structures that are built on a river in order to retain water for one or more specific purposes (e.g. hydroelectricity generation). Reservoirs are formed behind a dam. A reservoir is a body of water that has been “formed or modified by human activity for specific purposes, in order to provide a reliable and controllable [water] resource”. It can be confusing to talk about reservoirs and dams, as sometimes these terms are used interchangeably. However, dams and reservoirs are two entirely different things. An easy distinction to remember is that a dam is a physical structure that retains water; a reservoir is the water body that is created by a dam.

Click here for more information on Dams and Reservoirs.