Alberta’s Drought Command Team has been authorized to start negotiations with water licence holders to strike water-sharing agreements to mitigate the risk of drought. 

Alberta relies on melting snow and rain for all of its water. This winter, snowpack is below average, rivers are at record low levels and multiple reservoirs remain well below capacity.

As a result, for the first time since 2001, Alberta’s government has authorized the Drought Command Team to begin negotiations with major water licence holders to strike water-sharing agreements in the Red Deer River, Bow River and Old Man River basins. If a severe drought occurs, these agreements would see major users use less water to help others downstream.

“Starting Feb. 1, the Drought Command Team will begin negotiations with major water licence holders throughout Alberta to secure significant and timely reductions in water use. This effort will be the largest water-sharing negotiation to have ever occurred in Alberta’s history. I want to thank licence holders for coming to the table – your generosity, ingenuity and participation in this effort reflects the very best of our province.”

Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas

"Drought is something our farmers and ranchers have experienced before. Based on that experience, our irrigators and agricultural producers have done an amazing job to manage their operations during tough times. I also want to be clear, that Alberta producers are leaders in water conservation, environmental stewardship, and I am proud of the work they do. As always, Alberta’s government is doing everything we can to help producers impacted by drought, and our producers have always stepped up to work together to build solutions that are in the interest of the entire province."

RJ Sigurdson, Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation

In Alberta, there are 25,000 organizations and businesses that hold licences for 9.5 billion cubic metres of water. The Drought Command Team will select and prioritize negotiations with Alberta’s largest water licence holders in an effort to secure significant and timely reductions in water use.

To help manage water during previous shortages, individuals and groups have worked together to share available water. However, the scope and scale of the collaborative work underway and being proposed is unprecedented in Alberta’s history.

Quick facts

  • There are 25,000 water licence holders in Alberta.
  • Alberta licences 9.5 billion cubic metres of water – enough water to fill 3.8 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • There are currently 51 water shortage advisories in place in Alberta.
  • According to the most recent assessment by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 70 per cent of Canada was classified as abnormally dry or in moderate to exceptional drought, including 81 per cent of the country’s agricultural landscape.
  • At least one water-sharing agreement will be developed for each of the Red Deer River, Bow River and Oldman River basins, although multiple agreements could be put in place in some areas.
  • Under Alberta’s water management system, the province cannot unilaterally change the terms of water users’ allocation.
  • The Government of Alberta is closely monitoring snowpack, rainfall, river levels and water use levels throughout the province to help understand how much water will be available this year.
  • The water-sharing agreements will be entered voluntarily. They are expected to be completed before March 31.