Water for Life Principles, the Alberta Water Council and what we can do to improve…

Water for Life is the Alberta Government’s strategy for water, which builds upon the principles of water conservation and management enumerated in the Water Act. [1] It was first introduced in 2003 and, although it is policy and therefore unenforceable, it can influence government decision-making including decisions about water quality and quantity, as well as prevention and management of environmental concerns.

The Water for Life strategy identifies three discrete goals that all water programs in Alberta should strive for:

  • A safe, secure drinking water supply;
  • Healthy aquatic ecosystems; and
  • Reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy. [2]

Specific outcomes are then devised as ways to guide and measure the success of the Water for Life strategy in achieving these goals. [3] Unfortunately, despite plans for a number of specific programs and policies, progress in many areas has been limited. Measuring this progress and hoping to keep the government on track is the Alberta Water Council.

The Alberta Water Council is a multi-stakeholder partnership with members from government, industry, and non-governmental organizations, whose primary task is to monitor and steward implementation of the Water for Life strategies. [4] One way they have sought to do this is through periodic evaluations of the government’s Water for Life programs.  The most recent report was released in 2017 and included 12 recommendations, ranging from making Water for Life documents more accessible to the public to establishing criteria that can be used to grade the health of an aquatic ecosystem. [5] Overall, one of the major themes in this report was the need for transparent, accountable and measurable data on the quality and quantity of the water in our province – data that needs to be measured and understood before successful changes can be made. [6]

Another group that has been measuring government actions being taken to protect our aquatic resources is the World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF Canada). In 2017, WWF Canada released an extensive report on watersheds across the country and their recommendations are strikingly similar to those of the Alberta Water Council. [7]

Following a 4-year long study on the health of Canada’s water, WWF Canada put together a list of the top priorities it believes Canada needs to focus on if we hope to improve the health of our watersheds. WWF Canada also noted that the biggest impediment to their study was a lack of available data on the health of freshwater in Canada. Some of the priorities they identified include:

Collection of Data:

The majority of data collection is being done by community groups, who work tirelessly to learn more about our water but who are also constrained by limited funding and support. In order to remedy this, efforts must be made to support long-term monitoring to ensure continuity and encourage a combined effort with government, First Nations groups, academia, industry, and the community. This data must then be standardized and represented across the country; [8]

Analysis of Data:

Currently, data collection is fragmented and there are no measures to ensure consistency and applicability across the board. To allow for consistent findings, assessment methodology must take regional differences into account, must use consistent protocols and must be standardized to ensure reliability and the ability to integrate diverse datasets; [9]

Sharing Data:

Even when data has been collected, agencies are often reluctant to provide this information to just anyone. They often require a personal connection or a contractual agreement before sharing their datasets. However, the health of our freshwater affects all of us and is a public resource, so data should be accessible to all in a usable format that allows for the integration of a wide range of sources, metrics, and indicators; and

Data Currency:

Data on freshwater in Canada is often out of date and with an ever changing climate, out of date information may be useless. To provide enough information on trends over time, standardized freshwater assessments should occur every three to five years. [10]

As you can see, water management is a lot more complicated than simply turning on the tap and due to the complex web of laws governing our water, combined with the immense importance of water to all of our lives and to the health of our environment, we need to ensure that we work together to protect one of our most fundamental resources – our iconic Alberta waterways.

What kinds of laws and regulations do you think should be implemented to further protect and conserve our water?

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[1] Alberta Environment, “Water for Life – Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability” (November 2003)  Government of Alberta online: https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/77189444-7456-47f7-944c-085272b1a79c/resource/17c41dc3-1692-4cf9-b931-2892c57a62b1/download/2003-water-life-albertas-strategy-sustainability-november-2003.pdf.

[2] Water for Life – Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability at 7.

[3] Water for Life – Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability at 7.

[4] Alberta Water Council, “About Us” online: https://www.awchome.ca/AboutUs/tabid/54/Default.aspx.

[5] Alberta Water Council, “Review of Water for Life Implementation Progress: 2012-2015” (March 2017) at 5-7 online: https://www.awchome.ca/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=BpaK7JLcYTo%3d&tabid=102.

[6] Alberta Water Council, “Review of Water for Life Implementation Progress: 2012-2015”.

[7] WWF Canada, “A national assessment of Canada’s freshwater: Watershed Reports” (2017) online: https://watershedreports.wwf.ca/#intro.

[8] WWF Canada, “A national assessment of Canada’s freshwater: Watershed Reports” at 18-19.

[9] WWF Canada, “A national assessment of Canada’s freshwater: Watershed Reports” at 21.

[10] WWF Canada, “A national assessment of Canada’s freshwater: Watershed Reports” at 22.