Dynamics of Alberta’s Water Supply
While the Alberta economy is fuelled by petroleum, it runs on water.
The Alberta Water Research Institute, now known as the Water Resources Strategic Area for Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions, brought together a team of Alberta and international water experts to synthesize a wide array of data and information to develop a complete water budget for Alberta. This water budget was made by taking into account surface water and ground water resources, current and future water use, and the integration of green and blue water resources.
The collective work identifies research and information gaps and develops an overall approach to the mapping of water risk and vulnerability. The initiative captures the ‘virtual water’ content of economic activities in Alberta – as an example, the water embodied in agricultural goods for export internationally and domestically.
This initiative engaged a number of international experts in this field, and allows for capacity building in the use of new models and approaches to integrated watershed management and improved decision-making.
Through a series of six reports, the research has attempted to adopt a holistic approach towards understanding Alberta’s blue, green, fossil and virtual water and to answering the following questions:
- How much water do we have in our province at any given time?
- Where is this water located?
- How is our water being used?
- What is the balance of use vs. replenishment (recharge)?
- What is the net balance of virtual water in Alberta (export or import)?
- What is Albertas complete water budget?
A number of key learnings and insights have resulted from this collective work, including:
- Alberta is blessed with large quantities of water (but it is not evenly distributed)
- Large storage volumes of water reside in Alberta’s existing lakes, reservoirs, aquifers and glaciers
- Soil moisture and groundwater represent dominant sources of stored water in Alberta
- Water supply risks are evident in certain parts of the province (particularily given climate variability/change and population growth)
- Opportunities exist to better manage our water supplies (e.g., better sub-basin accounting, implementation of conjunctive use strategies)