PUBLISHED: 17 July 2013

How is Water Governed?

Though Alberta is known for its wealth of pristine glacier rivers and lakes, water is a non-renewable resource and must be used within its means. The Government of Alberta has guidelines and legislation in place to ensure appropriate control and use of water. There are many points of legislation to consider and the following is a brief overview that highlights specific areas within water governance and legislation in Alberta. For further criteria explanation, please refer to the Water Act.

Water Licences, Transfers, and Allocation

In order to use or divert ground or surface water in Alberta, the province requires you to obtain a licence, under the Water Act. A water licence is required for any individuals wanting to use or divert water in Alberta. From businesses to individual use, the regulations apply if one wishes to use ground or surface water. There are some cases where a licence is not required, such as: statutory household use, traditional agriculture use*, fire-fighting, wells equipped with hand pumps, and alternate watering systems that use surface water for grazing livestock and/or certain types of dugouts.
Learn more about Water Licenses, Transfers, and Allocation.

What is First-in-Time, First-in-Right (FITFIR)?

Alberta uses an allocation system referred to as FITFIR (First-in-Time, First-in-Right).This system uses ‘priority’ as the determining factor in certain water-specific situations. Priority is the date and time number assigned to a water allocation and is recorded on the licence. Under Alberta licencing, there is no priority given to the specific use. However, the priority number indicates seniority in times of shortage and is the First-in-Time aspect of FITFIR. This means when there is not enough water for all the licencees, the oldest licencees get their water before the newer ones.
Learn more about FITFIR.

What is “Water for Life?”

“Water for Life” is a strategic action plan set by the Alberta Government in 2003 by then Minister of the Environment Lorne Taylor. This plan looks at strategizing effective ways to ensure water availability for future generations with three main goals:

  1. Safe, secure drinking water;
  2. Healthy aquatic ecosystems; and
  3. Reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.

Learn more about Water for Life.

Property Rights

Alberta Farm
Property rights allow citizens and governments to own, use and develop land as they see fit within a set of rules as defined by law. In Canada, property rights which include subsurface and mineral rights are subject to federal and provincial legislation that can change depending on the type and location of the land.
Specifically, in Alberta property rights determine how land and natural resources can be used, provide landowners with legal protection, and allow for government intervention when private property can be used for purposes that benefit the public good.
Learn more about Property Rights

Transboundary Water Agreements

Water crosses boundaries and flows between many different nations and regions throughout the world. For this reason, nations pursue transboundary water management to address conflicting water interests and are based on calculations on natural flow to accommodate variability. For example, industrial pollution, infrastructure projects with downstream impacts, and extreme flood or drought events encourage nations to communicate with one another to share information and manage water quality and quantity expectations. This communication ensures integrated water management that promotes healthy watersheds.
Learn more about Transboundary Water Agreements.

What happens before construction starts?

A basic summary of the approval process for water infrastructure projects in Alberta, Canada
Have you ever wondered why constructions projects for water infrastructure can take time? Or what the role of municipal, provincial and federal government is throughout the process? What about Environmental Impact Assessments and First Nations Consultation? How do proponents step through the regulatory and legal requirements? When do courts enter the picture?
See a diagram summary and download a document about the steps to approval