Sectoral Water Allocations
(Updated July 2011)
Allocations do not directly reflect actual use or consumption of water - they are an indication of the relative amounts of water dedicated to a type of use and depict the growth in general water demand over time.
Allocations represent the maximum amount of water that has been granted for use by a particular sector. However, the entire allocation is not always required. In addition, many water users will return some or most of their diverted water back to the environment following use.
There must be enough natural supply available in order to take an allocated amount. In years where supply may be less than normal, water taken based on particular allocations can vary based on other allocations and licensed demands in the basin, as well as instream flow requirements or any apportionment agreements. Total allocations remain a useful measure because they represent full entitlements that have been granted. These entitlements are what can be demanded under the terms of the license, even if the full volume is not currently utilized.
What does the indicator show?
This indicator shows the change in total water allocations over time. The allocation totals are broken down into the major sectors representing the types of usage for water in Alberta.
Water allocations in Alberta have grown by seven per cent since 2000, surpassing 9.9 billion cubic metres by 2010. The rate of growth since 2000 has decreased slightly compared to the rate over the past 30 years.
Trend: Mixed; Generally increasing provincially and across most sectors, but highly dependant upon individual river basin trends.
It is not expected a change in long-term water demand will occur as long as population and economy continue to grow. Following the initial granting of water to irrigation districts in the early part of the century, the amount of water allocated for use was relatively stable until the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, industrial development and urbanization of Alberta began in earnest.
Demand for water has continued to increase since that time. However, demand is uneven across the province, with the majority of allocated water in the southern and central portions of the province. This corresponds to the population centres where most of the people in Alberta live and work. The sectors with the largest amount of water allocated to them are for irrigation, cooling uses for power generation, and municipal water supply.
Water allocation data is based on water licenses issued under the provincial Water Act. Sector categories reflect current definitions that exist within the licensing database. Therefore, "industrial use" currently means "oil and gas" activity only. Other industrial uses, such as manufacturing, pulp and paper, mining and thermal power generation, are defined as commercial. Under the Water Act, statutory household domestic uses - typically individual water wells in rural areas - do not require an approval and are therefore not included in these totals.
Alberta's hydrometric monitoring network collects flow data. This network consists of over 340 stations located throughout the province. Where the recorded flows are regulated or have large human consumption, the natural flows are reconstructed using sophisticated computations and flow models or "flow naturalization techniques".
What actions are being taken?
The indicator provides supporting information for Alberta Environment's Water for Life strategy. The Alberta government has established a long-term goal of improving water productivity by 30 per cent between 2005 and 2015.
Water productivity is the amount of water required to produce a certain good, service or societal value. Improved productivity can be achieved by increasing efficiency in water use, conserving water, and recycling and reusing water. By identifying this target, we are providing guidance to the sector plans that will be developed by stakeholders.
Alberta Environment and the Alberta Water Council are working to facilitate water conservation and productivity plans and to establish targets for improvement for all water-use sectors. For river basins and watersheds that have already reached water allocation limits, Alberta Environment consults with stakeholders before deciding whether to close the basin to new water licenses.
A moratorium on issuing new surface water licenses is already in place for three of the major sub-basins of the South Saskatchewan River watershed.