Over the course of the ARB Initiative, a collaborative and diverse Working Group identified and assessed possible strategies for future and current actions for sustainable water management across the ARB. Here are a few water management approaches assessed through this process.

ARBMap Final

Effluent Reuse

Environmental Flows

Existing Infrastructure

Land Conservation

Wetlands

Extraction Industry Reclamation

Navigational Flows

Water Conservation

On-stream Storage

Off-stream Storage

Forestry Practices

Linear Connectivity

Effluent reuse: Enable reuse of industrial or municipal effluent to reduce reliance on freshwater

ARB Strategies Illustrations 02

Strategy Description

Take return flows (treated wastewater) from industrial, municipal, or commercial operations and reuse that water for other industrial purposes. This approach supports development without needing to withdraw additional freshwater, while also reducing release of treated wastewater back into the river.

Possible Benefits 

  • Takes pressure off smaller streams
  • May improve water quality for downstream users by reducing the treated effluent returned to the river
  • Could provide a back-up water source when fresh water systems are stressed 
  • Effluent suppliers can save on water treatment

Possible Trade-offs

  • Reduced tributary flows from reduced return flows might affect fish and aquatic species if implemented on a large scale 

Water conservation: Continue to achieve water conservation and efficiency improvements as communities develop

ARB Strategies Illustrations 03

Strategy Description

Promote conservation and efficiency practices for municipal, industrial, and commercial water use. This strategy aims to support future development without increasing the demand for freshwater across the entire basin. This strategy would focus heavily on reducing freshwater demand for industrial and commercial uses, as municipalities typically see a relatively high return rate so reductions in municipal water use would have less effect on river flow. 

 

Possible Benefits

Benefits would be proportional to the degree of conservation practiced.  Some benefits could include:

  • Increased walleye recruitment
  • Reduced water shortages
  • Reduction in instream flow need violations 

Possible Trade-offs

  • Expenses and effort required to implement conversation throughout basin
  • Some sectors might struggle to meet the conversation targets without experiencing diminishing returns 

On-stream storage: Explore new on-stream munlti-purpose storage options

On-stream storage water management, image showing a dam on a river.Strategy Description

On-stream storage refers to infrastructure built on the river with the capacity to alter flows, such as reservoirs and dams. This strategy includes further exploring new, multi-purpose storage opinions based on the needs of the basin and water users. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Storage of water during high flow and releasing during low flow could help meet navigational flows, reduce shortages to licensed demands, and reduce Instream Flow Need violations
  • Potential for managing ice-jams
  • Fewer flood days for communities
  • Flexibility to deal with changing flows due to changing climate
  • Potential for hydropower generation

Possible Trade-offs

  • Infrastructure could negatively affect Indigenous communities, lands uses and sites, as well as cultural and recreational uses
  • Changing flow to the PAD
  • Sediment transport downstream of the reservoir
  • Possible reduction in spring and summer peak flows could impact riparian health and fish migration 

 

Off-stream storage: Develop new and existing off-stream storage sites to meet multiple basin water management objectives

Off-stream storage water management, image showing reservoir beside a river.Strategy Description

Off-stream storage refers to water-storing infrastructure (e.g., reservoirs, lakes) located away from the river and tributaries. This strategy includes further exploring new, multi-purpose storage opinions based on the needs of the basin and water users. 

Possible Benefits 

  • Potential reduction in shortages to water users
  • Meeting navigational flow targets
  • Higher winter streamflow to augment low flows
  • Potential for hydropower generation

Possible Trade-offs

  • Potential for negative impact on water quality and water temperature 

Existing infrastructure: Alter existing water storage infrastructure and operations to meet multiple basin water management objectives

Existing infrastructure water management, image showing a lake on a river

 

Strategy Description

Alter existing water storage operations and infrastructure to meet multiple basin objectives for flexible water management. This includes examining lakes, dams, and smaller weirs and structures to increase the water management benefits. 

Possible Benefits 

Benefits would depend on the current infrastructure and the suggested operational changes.

Possible Trade-offs

Trade-offs would depend on the current infrastructure and the suggested operational changes.

Environmental flows: Establish instream flow needs or similar targets for all tributaries in the basin as a precautionary water management measure

Environmental flows water management, image showing river in a landscape.

Strategy Description

Set Instream Flow Needs (IFNs) on some of the larger tributaries in the basin. This strategy includes investigating how often the targets would be met if a minimum flow was implemented and the volume of shortages that would result from flow target violations. This strategy is intended to proactively manage ecosystem health and naturalize streamflow. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Fewer IFN violations in the basin
  • Increase seasonal naturalized streamflow
  • Increased walleye recruitment and fishery health
  • May increase the ability to meet navigation flow targets in dry conditions 

Possible Trade-offs

  • Increase in water shortages for water users to meet IFN targets 

Navigational flows: Implement minimum flows to improve navigation in the lower Athabasca basin

Image showing a small boat on a river.

Strategy Description

Implementing minimum navigational flows to improve navigation for Indigenous peoples on the Athabasca River. This strategy aims to meet navigational flows through water management as ideal minimum flows are not met naturally in many cases. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Increased days where navigational flow targets are met
  • Increased walleye recruitment
  • Decreased days where IFN targets are violated

Possible Trade-offs

  • Upstream water users might be shorted during the spring and fall if reduced water use were needed to meet desired flow targets 

Land conservation: Increase the quantity and improve the condition of conserved and restored land across the basin

Image depicting a conservation area beside the river.

Strategy Description

Increase the amount and improve the condition of conserved and restored land across the basin, particularly in areas of high biodiversity or hydrologic importance. This strategy aims to maintain and improve hydrologic function and watershed health, while focusing on areas that have low value for resource development but still meet biodiversity targets. This will minimize the lost opportunity cost of protecting an area while still improving streamflow and water quality while providing for a well managed and intact landscape that can help to mitigate flooding, etc. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Potential water quality improvements
  • A more natural landscape with potentially higher biodiversity
  • Potentially less alteration to the hydrological regime of the basin
  • Potentially fewer flood days
  • Potentially fewer IFN violations 

Possible Trade-offs

  • Industrial activity may move to other parts of the basin, impacting industrial footprint in other areas
  • Potential decrease in meeting navigational targets due to storing more water on the landscape
  • Potential increase in shortages under dry conditions 

Forestry practices: Support practices in Forest Management Agreements that minimize hydrologic change 

Image showing cartoon conifer trees.

Strategy Description

Implement sustainable forest management and stewardship to minimize hydrologic impacts of timber harvest. Forest canopies play a role in the watershed through evapotranspiration of precipitation, effects on snow accumulation and ablation, and influence on soil water storage. This strategy aims to improve sustainable forest management and stewardship to minimize hydrologic change. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Reducing the potential to alter streamflow regimes by managing forest disturbance 

 

Possible Trade-offs

  • Possible impacts on timber supply, though efficiencies and innovative practices could help offset these effects 

Wetlands: Avoid further wetland loss and functional impairment and promote more wetland restoration, education, and best management practices focused on minimizing impacts

Image depicting ponds and wetlands.

Strategy Description

Avoiding wetland loss and promoting wetland restoration through the continued refinement, implementation, and enforcement of related legislation, policies, and mechanisms. Wetlands create unique and diverse habitats for a wide range of organisms, serving a vitally important role on the landscape. This strategy aims to maintain or improve the hydrological benefits of wetlands. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Decreased peak or flashy streamflows as a result of more storage of water in wetlands
  • Increase in overall ecosystem health, benefiting wildlife, hydrologic connectivity, and diversity
  • Extend residence time so that there are higher flows for longer periods through more a regulated baseflow 

Possible Trade-offs

  • Potential to add challenges to future development
  • Cost of reclaiming wetlands 

Linear connectivity: Reclaim or deactivate linear features and reduce future linear disturbances in watersheds

Image showing a road through the forest.

Strategy Description

Reduce the total linear footprint on the landscape through mechanisms such as road and trail deactivation, seismic line reclamation, and restrictions on off-highway vehicle use. Linear features fragment the landscape and have the potential to interrupt hydrologic functions and ultimately affect streamflow. This strategy aims to reduce this interruption and to determine the hydrological impact of linear disturbances in terms of changes to streamflow. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Low net benefit to streamflow but possible increase in water quality due to reduction in sediment runoff 

 

Possible Trade-offs

  • Potential to add challenges to future development
  • Cost to reclaim existing linear features 

Extraction industry reclamation: Continue to set and meet high standards of reclamation of extraction footprint to maintain or improve hydrological functions in a watershed

Graphic representation of an industry processing plant beside the river.

Strategy Description

Support continued reclamation practices and enforcement in the extraction sector. This strategy aims to ensure mines and pits are reclaimed in a manner that restores or improves watershed functions and would apply wherever there is an extraction footprint in the basin. 

 

Possible Benefits 

  • Potential re-establishment of hydrologic functions, resulting in more natural streamflow regimes
  • Potential positive benefits for water quality and communities

Possible Trade-offs

  • Potential decrease in streamflow due to increased interception on the landscape