+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 19-19F

Water Security in Southern Alberta

November 1, 2019
Expiry Date:
December 1, 2022
Active Status:
MD of Taber
1 - Foothills-Little Bow
Intent Not Met
Vote Results:

WHEREAS construction of facilities for the purpose of water detention in southern Alberta will provide added capacity for the impoundment of water during high streamflow events and for use during low river flow periods; and

WHEREAS additional water storage in southern Alberta is necessary to ensure water security – a vital component of southern Alberta’s economic, social and environmental fabric; and

WHEREAS the rate of fill of several Alberta reservoirs limits the ability to fully use available storage due to inadequate headworks canal conveyance capacity; and

WHEREAS river flows to Saskatchewan via the South Saskatchewan River are regulated under the 1969 Master Agreement on Apportionment Schedule “A” under which Alberta is entitled to use 50% of the flow which would naturally occur in the South Saskatchewan River basin (SSRB) each year, excluding water from the SSRB which is diverted for use in Montana (the apportionable flow); and

WHEREAS the 1969 Master Agreement on Apportionment Schedule “A” also states that provided the actual flow at the confluence of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan rivers does not drop below 1500 cubic feet per second, Alberta is entitled to use 2.1 million acre feet even if that exceeds 50% of the apportionable flow; and

WHEREAS the lack of water storage means that the historical total flow contributed towards all water-sharing agreements has been greater than the 50% of natural flow in all years; and

WHEREAS increasing climate variability has resulted in a cycle of flood and drought which is becoming increasingly unsustainable as the demand for water from municipal, agricultural and industrial users increases annually and highlights the need for additional water storage; and

WHEREAS irrigation carried out on approximately 4.7% of Alberta’s cultivated land base contributes about $3.6 billion to provincial GDP directly influencing economic growth;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta advocate that the Government of Alberta address water security issues in southern Alberta by constructing additional water storage in southern Alberta for the purpose of buffering flood events and to retain water during periods of shortage.

Member Background:

Article 4A of the 1969 Master Agreement on Apportionment recognizes prior allocations in Alberta by stating that “Alberta shall be entitled in each year to consume, or to divert or store for its consumptive use a minimum of 2,100,000 acre-feet net depletion out of the flow of the watercourse known as the South Saskatchewan River even though its share for the said year….would be less than 2,100,000 acre-feet net depletion, provided however Alberta shall not be entitled to so consume or divert or store for its consumptive use, more than one-half the natural flow…if the effect thereof at any time would be to reduce the actual flow…at the common boundary…to less than 1500 cubic feet per second.”

Recently implemented minimum flow requirements for the South Saskatchewan River through Medicine Hat as well as other reaches throughout the system may compromise Alberta’s ability to make full use of its entitlements under this clause. As such the relative impact of instream flows on Alberta’s ability to utilize its share of the water of the South Saskatchewan River needs to be assessed. Further, return flows provided by irrigation districts within the basin are not currently calculated as contributing flows – a factor which should be rectified within future reviews of this agreement.

As the South Saskatchewan River is a closed basin, water is one of the most valuable resources in southern Alberta. There have been periods recently when there has been too much water from rain or snow melt, leading to flooding events. There have also been periods when water rationing has been put in place due to the shortage of water available for use.

As per the Master Agreement on Apportionment, Alberta is required to send a certain amount of natural flow water downstream to Saskatchewan based on a formula set out by Government. What appears to be missing in all of this is that there is an opportunity to capture (detain) some of the excess water flowing through southern Alberta, whether it be from overland flooding or natural flow, and use the water during periods of possible drought while still meeting legislated requirements. Other than having the ability to connect directly into rivers, irrigation districts are the main method of conveying water in Southern Alberta and do so by having strategically placed reservoirs throughout the south region. These reservoirs capture mountain runoff, store excess water from fast spring thaws, and hold back rainwater deluges during summer storms. Then the canals convey water downstream to all users whether it be for agricultural, municipal (as a source of drinking water), industrial or recreational purposes, all contributing to the economy and well-being of not only southern Alberta, but the entire province.

A way of ensuring water security in southern Alberta is to work with the Government of Alberta as their partners to establish a method for capturing as much excess water as possible, store and utilize this water as required when periods of drought are upon us. This would mean working together to develop a plan for the construction of additional strategically-placed water reservoir storage capacity that can be used to capture water for future utilization and still be able to meet legislated requirements. It makes no sense to simply send excess water downstream if there is a way of storing the water and utilizing it to promote stability and growth in our province.

RMA Background:

RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.

Government Response:

Alberta Environment and Parks

  • The Government of Alberta respects the critical role water plays in the economic growth of southern Alberta.
  • Alberta has made targeted investments in water infrastructure projects focused on improving overall resiliency to floods and drought.
  • Major water users in Alberta have made significant improvements over the last 15 years in terms of water conservation, efficiency and productivity to help improve water availability.
  • New storage opportunities are more feasible if the costs and benefits of new infrastructure are shared among the broadest possible number of water users.

RMA appreciates the acknowledgement from the Government of Alberta new storage opportunities are more feasible if the costs and benefits of new infrastructure is shared among a broad number of water users. However, the resolution is calling for the government to construct additional water storage in Southern Alberta and since there is no indication of construction being started at this time, RMA assigns this resolution as Intent Not Met.

Provincial Ministries:
Environment and Parks
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