Alberta's Water for Life Strategy was the first of its kind in North America, focusing on 3 main goals: safe, secure drinking water; healthy aquatic ecosystems; and reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy. The strategy has been how the Government of Alberta has managed water in the province since its inception. This year, Water for Life celebrates its 20th Anniversary, which has many in the water world reflecting on the rich history of water in the province.
Though I have not been in the water world nearly as long as some of my colleagues, I have immersed myself over the last few years, working with a Watershed Planning and Advisory Council and shifting focus from general environmental factors to a water specific scope. Here's what I've learned over the years.
Alberta's Water for Life Strategy started in 2003, but was renewed in 2008. It includes 3 goals to guide water management in the province: knowledge and research, partnerships, and water conservation. Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) were created from the strategy to help accomplish the province's goals, lending support to WPACs to act as conveners and collaborators for local stakeholders and build relationships with the locals to curate a better understanding of local watershed issues. WPACs are also designated to work to gather information about their respective watersheds, bridging the gaps in knowledge for the Government, locals and researchers alike.
Overall, the province is interested in having updates State of the Watershed reports from the 11 WPACs across the province. These reports are summaries of general health parameters for major watersheds, sub-watersheds, and local waterbodies where possible. No watershed is the same, though some similar parameters are used across all watersheds in the province. Information like water quality data is a common indicator of watershed health. But we must consider the vast differences across Alberta's landscape and how those land uses impact the environment, wildlife, and of course, water. As a result, no State of the Watershed report will be identical.
In 2013, the province engaged with Albertans to steer the future of Alberta's water policy and created a plan with short term and long term goals. The engagement process shook out to focus on 4 key areas, including healthy lakes, hydraulic fracturing and water, drinking water and wastewater systems, and water management, which were reported on shortly after in 2014.
Twenty years have gone by in the blink of an eye (for some). 2023 marks a renewal of the Water for Life strategy. The Alberta Water Council, a multisector approach to participation and decision making includes folks from the Government of Alberta and provincial authorities, industry, NGO's and Indigenous Governments as a means to collaborate and include stakeholders in the plan for Alberta's water. The renewal is also timely in helping to identify and prepare for shifting climate and water demands.
With many of the WPACs celebrating landmark anniversaries (like the LSWC celebrating 15 years, the NSWA celebrating 20 years), it is exciting to see Water for Life turn 20, and turn a corner for a new decade with a renewed strategy for 2023-2033! Congratulations to Alberta's water sector for the last 20 years of work and accomplishments, and here's to 20 more!