By Al Beeber
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The province of Alberta will begin negotiations with major water licence holders to strike sharing agreements in the Oldman River, Red Deer River and Bow River basins.
The province said in a release on Jan. 31 that it has authorized the Drought Command Team to begin negotiations.
“If a severe drought occurs, these agreements would see major users use less water to help others downstream,” says the province. The agreements will be entered into voluntarily.
“At least one water sharing agreement will be developed for each of the three basins but multiple agreements could be put in place in some areas,” the government says.
“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,” says Minister of Environmental and Protected Areas Rebecca Shultz in a statement.
There are 25,000 organizations and businesses holding licences in Alberta for 9.5 billion cubic meters of water. That amount of water is enough to fill 3.8 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The province can’t unilaterally change terms of water users’ allocations. Agreements are expected to be completed before March 31.
The command team will select and prioritize negotiations with the largest licence holders to secure “significant and timely reductions in water use.
Presently, 51 water shortage advisories are in place in Alberta.
The most recent assessment by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada suggests 70 per cent of Canada is classified as “abnormally dry or in moderate to exceptional drought, including 81 per cent of the country’s agricultural landscape.”
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,” says the province.