PUBLISHED: 30 July 2012

Alberta Water Facts

No matter where you go in the world water is one of our most precious resources. Use the section headers as jumping off points to learn more about all the manners in which water exists in the province of Alberta.


Water Supply

  • 20% of the world’s drinking water is in Canada, but Alberta accounts for only 2.2% of Canada’s fresh water [1].
  • Alberta is estimated to have more groundwater than surface water. However, only 0.01% of this groundwater is thought to be recoverable [2].
  • The mean annual discharge, (the average total volume of water flowing in a river in one year) of the Athabasca River at Fort McMurray is enough to fill sylvan lake (43 km2) about 50 times in one year [3].
  • Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park is the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world [3].

Click here to read more about Alberta`s watershed, glaciers and groundwater.


Water Demand

In the demand for water in Alberta section, water is broken into three broad categories: agriculture use; industry use; and domestic uses.

  • While 80% of Alberta’s water supply lies in the Northern part of the province, 80% of Alberta’s water demand comes from the southern half of the province [1].
  • In general, only groundwater within 150 metres of the surface is suitable for household consumption. Although there are exceptions, wells drilled at greater depths run the risk of encountering saline groundwater. Whenever possible, industrial water users look for alternatives to potable water, such as deeper saline groundwater [1].
  • The majority of the water used by irrigation districts in Alberta comes from rivers in the South Saskatchewan River Basin including the St. Mary, Bow, Oldman, and their major tributaries. A relatively smaller supply comes from the Milk River, a tributary of the Missouri-Mississippi river system [1].
  • In 2009 industrial and commercial activities held about 52% of the groundwater allocations in the province and about 37% of the surface water allocations [1].



In Alberta, much of our water comes from surface sources such as rivers and lakes, which are easily accessible. Alternatively, some of our water is also accessed from underground sources to support our growing rural population. This water is commonly referred to as groundwater and resides within the soil and rock formation beneath our feet.

  • More than 600,000 rural Albertans depend on groundwater for drinking water purposes [4].
  • Approximately 40,000 cubic kilometres (km3) of groundwater exists in Alberta—enough to cover the entire province in about 60 meters of water [5].
  • Only about 0.01% of the groundwater in Alberta is thought to be recoverable [5].
  • Of all the water licensed for use in Alberta, about 3% comes from groundwater [5].
  • In 2010, a total of 9.9 billion cubic metres (m³) of water was allocated but only 300 million m³ of that volume came from groundwater [5].



The Government of Alberta has guidelines and legislation in place to ensure appropriate control and use of water.

  • There are 13 Irrigation Districts in Alberta
  • There are 11 Watershed Associations in Alberta
  • There are 7 major basins or watersheds in Alberta: Hay, Peace/Slave, Athabasca, Beaver, North Saskatchewan, South Saskatchewan, and Milk [2].
  • All water in Alberta is owned by the crown and managed by the province, regardless of whether it occurs on public or private land. Activities impacting water in wetlands are regulated under the Water Act. Before any activity within a wetland is initiated, such as the creation of drainage ditches, infilling or alteration, Alberta environment must be contacted for approval.
  • Albertans living adjacent to a water body or above a source of groundwater have the statutory right to use up to 1250 m3 of water per year for human consumption, sanitation, and other smaller household uses [2].
  • Did you know: Alberta Environment’s water use reporting system allows water licensees to report their water diversions online. Licensees may enter the data on a daily, monthly, or annual basis depending on the reporting requirement of their licence [2].


Water Footprint

The water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer.

  • In many Albertan cities, storm drains flow directly to a local water body. This means water running off lawns, driveways, sidewalks, and streets into storm drains is not treated at a sewage treatment plant. Rain can wash fertilizers, oil, salt, and soap directly into local rivers and streams. These wastes can impact aquatic ecosystems and water quality [2].



There are countless ways to enjoy water activities in Alberta. The province of Alberta offers a varied selection of activities around water.

  • There is a location near Banff where you can go scuba diving and see submerged historical sites [6].
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