How Water is Governed: What is 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.
Allowing seniority protects existing licencees from new users creating a shortage for the existing licencees and also reminds new users not to be wasteful. Under this system, the more junior your licence, the greater the risk of not receiving all or part of your allocated water in low water years. However, during emergency situations, the government has the power to suspend a water licence and redesignate the water for other uses. A licence can also be cancelled for non-use or non-performance of a condition of a licence, however this is no record of this occurring to-date.
In 2011 Alberta's thirteen irrigation districts approved a declaration ensuring that in times of drought in southern Alberta, human and livestock needs will be met before those of irrigated agriculture.This landmark declaration, means that should severe water shortages occur, the irrigation districts, which have licenses to utilize 3.4 billion cubic metres of water annually, will work with communities in southern Alberta to ensure people have water for their needs.
As water rights are regulated in Alberta, the declaration commits the irrigation districts to temporarily assign appropriate licensed amounts to other users, such as communities and livestock operators, who have less priority for water than the irrigation districts do. No fees will be charged to any users who receive a water assignment under these circumstances, but all those who participate in water sharing will also be expected to share the burden of the shortage by implementing water conservation efforts.