November 21, 2005

Alberta reviews work in implementing Water for Life strategy

A recent assessment by the Alberta government of its progress in implementing Water for Life: Alberta's Strategy for Sustainability, indicates several important accomplishments during the plan's first year. Notable among these were the formation of the Alberta Water Council and the establishment of watershed planning and advisory councils in the Oldman, North Saskatchewan and Bow river basins. The advisory councils, together with watershed stewardship groups, will make recommendations to government, stakeholders and the public on improving water management throughout Alberta's watersheds.

Other activities have included: assessing drinking water facilities across the province; enhancing water monitoring programs; reviewing water storage sites; examining protocols to reduce the amount of fresh water used in oilfield injection, and developing the Alberta Water Information Centre and water use reporting system.

Alberta's strategy covers a ten- to 12-year period, setting out objectives and actions in three main areas: knowledge and research, management and stewardship, and water conservation. Following its release in late 2003, Alberta Environment assumed responsibility for leading implementation of the Water for Life strategy, in co-operation with the Alberta Water Council (AWC) and other partners. Implementation began in 2004-05, with $5 million allocated for new operational initiatives and $14 million to capital activities.

"Water for Life is the most comprehensive water strategy in Canada," said Alberta Environment Minister Guy Boutilier. "It demonstrates Alberta's leadership in properly managing our 'blue gold.' I'm also pleased with the work of the Alberta Water Council. Members have played a key role in ensuring Alberta's water strategy is on track towards achieving its goals."

The AWC, created in May 2004, is also mandated to monitor progress of the Water for Life strategy, as well as to advise the provincial government on water issues. The Council followed up the government's review with its first Annual Report for 2005-05, providing an independent and more detailed assessment of the strategy's implementation.

"The Council is impressed with the progress after the first year of implementation," said AWC member Ron Pearson, adding, "We look forward to watching as the strategy evolves into specific, balanced and funded initiatives."

"During its first year, the Council launched several projects that will ultimately engage both urban and rural Albertans in finding solutions to the province's water challenges," said Bill Berzins, a member of the Council's executive. Highlights of the AWC's first year include:

*establishing teams to recommend policy for protecting wetlands and conserving water;

*developing a water research strategy to fill important gaps in scientific, economic and social knowledge needed to support better decisions; and

*building bridges to enhance understanding and dialogue with an ever-increasing number of stakeholder groups in the province.

The report also presents a number of recommendations for government in the coming year, including:

*dedicating resources and funding to the priorities identified in the provincial water research strategy to fill knowledge and research gaps, such as groundwater mapping, wetland inventories and instream flow needs;

*strengthening government's support of partnerships in watershed planning, a cornerstone of the Water for Life strategy; and

*developing a water-use efficiency, productivity and conservation plan for the province.

The AWC Annual Report may be viewed on-line at www.waterforlife.gov.ab.ca/awc/docs/AWC_AnnualReport.pdf. The government's report on the Water for Life strategy implementation progress is available at www.waterforlife.gov.ab.ca.

In related activities, a draft water management plan for the South Saskatchewan River Basin has been made available for public review. Comments will be accepted through to December 9, 2005.

The plan is designed to balance water demands for economic development with sound environmental management, ensuring that water is managed wisely and conservation is encouraged, so the province can continue to meet water demands as the population and economic activity grow. It also establishes limits on water allocations in the Bow, Oldman and South Saskatchewan Rivers to protect the environment.

"Alberta's 'blue gold' is precious, and good to the last drop," said Environment Minister Guy Boutilier. "The challenge before us is to use water in the most efficient manner possible. We have to continue to manage water effectively, and plan accordingly to support both our economy and our environment," he added.

The draft plan and supporting documents, including a link to a questionnaire, may be accessed on-line at www.environment.gov.ab.ca or by calling 403/297-6250.

The first phase of this water management plan was developed in June 2002 and is currently being implemented. In compliance with the plan, applications for new allocations are no longer being accepted in the St Mary, Belly and Waterton Rivers. The plan has also authorized the use of water allocation transfers and water conservation holdbacks.

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