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Use this page to directly compare water policy in THE canadian provinces & TERRITORIES along 17 different dimensions ORGANIZED INTO 4 MAJOR CATEGORIES.
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Last Update: Jan 03/12
 Basic Introduction
Central Water Legislation
The Water Act (2000) supports and promotes the conservation and management of water, including the wise allocation and use of water.

The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (2000) supports and promotes the protection, enhancement, and wise use of the environment.  The Act's individual regulations cover a wide range of activities, from beverage container recycling and pesticide sales, potable water, to wastewater and storm drainage.

Other legislation that covers a variety of aspects of water management in Alberta includes: Alberta Land Stewardship Act (2009), Energy Resources Conservation Act (2000), Irrigation Districts Act (2000), Municipal Government Act (2000), Public Health Act (2000), Public Lands Act (2000), and Public Utilities Board Act (2000).

Federal legislation such as the Fisheries Act (1985), the Navigable Waters Protection Act (1985), and the Migratory Birds Convention Act (2000) also have relevance for water management in Alberta.

last update: (Apr 30/10)
Key Ministries & Departments
Alberta Environment and Water is responsible for administering the Water Act (2000) and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (2000).  It is the primary department leading Water for Life (2003) implementation and overseeing regulation of municipal drinking water, wastewater, and storm drainage systems.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development is responsible for forestry and Crown land, and leading land-use planning under the Land-use Framework.

Alberta Energy is responsible for stewarding Alberta's energy resources and administering energy leases.  The Energy Resources Conservation Board also plays an important regulatory role for all energy related activities.

Agriculture and Rural Development works with the agricultural sector including irrigators.

Alberta Transportation administers grants to municipalities for water and wastewater infrastructure.

Municipal Affairs approves private sewage disposal systems.

last update: (Jan 03/12)
Water Rights
Alberta's water rights system is based on prior allocation, where the Government of Alberta issues licences to use water based on the first in time first in right principle (FITFIR). This principle determines which water users can obtain their allocated water volume before other users in times of water shortage (de Loë, Varghese, Ferreyra, & Kreutzwiser, 2007).

Alberta Environment and Water is the agency primarily responsible for water allocation under the Water Act (2000). A water licence identifies the water source, the location of the diversion point, the volume, rate, and timing of water to be diverted, the priority the allocation  established by the licence, and any licence conditions (Government of Alberta, 2010). 

Maximum eligible quantities are assigned based on intended use and potential impacts to other users and environment.  Household (domestic) and traditional agriculture use does not require a licence and the maximum annual allocation is stipulated in the Water Act (2000).

A water rights holder may apply to transfer all or a portion of a licensed allocation in basins where a water management plan has been approved to allow these transfers. The Approved South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Management Plan, for example, allows for transfers of water rights within the South Saskatchewan River Basin. This ability to transfer water rights is particularly relevant in watersheds where no new water licences are being issued, as in the Milk, Bow, and Oldman River basins in southern Alberta (Alberta Environment, 2006). These latter two basins are sub-basins of the South Saskatchewan Basin.

There do not appear to be any penalties under the Water Act (2000).

First Nations rights to water are not yet explicitly and legally acknowledged in any provincial or federal legislation. The 1987 Federal Water Policy (Environment Canada, 1987) acknowledges Native interests in water but this has not generally been reflected in provincial allocation decisions.

last update: (Jan 03/12)
Data Collection/ Monitoring
Alberta Environment and Water partners with other government departments and governments, industry, and other stakeholders to monitor and collect surface water quality data around the province.

Long-Term River Network monitors major rivers throughout the province for a wide range of water quality parameters to build an extensive database of water quality information that allows statistical trend assessment. The annual report on River Water Quality Index (Government of Alberta, Environment, 2010a) provides an annual snapshot of water quality in Alberta's major rivers.

Alberta Environment and Water offers an online inventory of water sampling locations and water quality data (Government of Alberta, Environment, 2005). Monitoring networks for streams and wetlands are not as well developed as those for rivers and lakes (Government of Alberta, 2010).


This Government of Alberta, Alberta Environment (n.d.b) map shows the surface water monitoring stations for river water quality monitoring:

This Government of Alberta, Ministry of Environment (n.d.a) map shows where lakes were monitored in Alberta in 2008-9:

Alberta Environment and Water has the Groundwater Observation Well Network (Government of Alberta, Environment, 2010b) that monitors groundwater levels and select quality indicators in strategic locations across Alberta.  In 1957, three wells were installed; by 1982 there were 145 wells, 55 of which were spread around the province and 90 wells specifically monitored conditions in the oil sands area. About 200 wells are in place today ((de Loë, Varghese, Ferreyra, & Kreutzwiser, 2007).

There are no provincial or territorial programs to monitor drinking water or water resources in First Nations communities.

last update: (Jan 03/12)
Transboundary Issues
The 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty applies to boundary waters between Canada and the United States and it also apportions the transboundary waters, the St Mary and Milk Rivers, between the U.S. and Canada. The Master Agreement on Apportionment (1969) between Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Canada, sets out a formula for sharing eastward flowing rivers and streams in the South Saskatchewan River Basin across provincial boundaries. It requires each upstream province to pass 50 percent of natural flow to the downstream province. In 1997, governments of Canada, Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories (NWT), Saskatchewan, and the Yukon committed to the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement. For the Mackenzie River Basin agreement, the Yukon and NWT completed a bilateral agreement in 2000; other Mackenzie River Basin parties are working toward negotiating other bilateral agreements.

There are no agreements between any levels of government acknowledging First Nations water rights, except those delineated under land claim or self-government agreements, such as the Nisga'a Agreement.

last update: (Jan 03/12)
 Water Quality
Drinking Water Laws
The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (2000) regulates municipal drinking water systems, operator certification, source water protection and compliance.  Regional Health Authorities and Alberta Health and Wellness monitor drinking water. Drinking water in First Nations communities is generally under federal jurisdiction (Government of Alberta, Environment, 2009).

Drinking water falls under the jurisdiction of a number of regulations, which are enabled by three distinct Acts: the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (2000), the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (2000), and the Public Health Act (2000).

The regulations under Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA) relevant to drinking water are:

  • Activities Designation Regulation (1996)-waterworks systems regulated by Alberta Environment
  • Potable Water Regulation (2002)-minimum design standards for approved surface and groundwater treatment and distribution systems
  • Approvals and Registration Procedure Regulation (1993)-steps to be followed to acquire an approval or registration for a waterworks facility
  • Environmental Appeal Board Regulation (1993)-process in submitting an appeal
The regulations under the Public Health Act (2000) relevant to drinking water:

  • Nuisance and General Sanitation Regulation (2003)-requirements associated with domestic water and sewage systems that are outside the scope of EPEA.
The regulations under the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (2000) relevant to drinking water:

  • Standards and Administration Regulation (2000)-standards for confined feeding operations for the containment of the number of animals, manure storage facilities, seasonal feeding and bedding sites. (Note:  These types of operations are critical issues for drinking water in some parts of Alberta).
Once treated water moves out of the waterworks distribution system past the service connection for a residence, Municipal Affairs governs under the Safety Codes Act (2000), including the Plumbing Code Regulation.

Drinking water providers must provide annual reports to Alberta Environment; Alberta Environment is working toward monthly reporting. 

First Nations communities are located on Federal Reserve land, which falls within Federal jurisdiction. Provincial drinking water legislation does not apply to these communities.

last update: (Jan 03/12)
Source Water Protection
The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (2000), Water Act (2000), Water for Life: Alberta's Strategy for Sustainability (Government of Alberta, 2003), Drinking Water Program (Government of Alberta, 2009), and Framework for Water Management Planning (1999) all contribute to protection of drinking water sources. However, Alberta has no specific legislated source water protection legislation.

Alberta fully adopts the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (2009). Operator certification is required. The treatment required from the province includes disinfection for both groundwater and surface water, and filtration for surface and shallow groundwater supplies. Municipalities must submit monthly and annual reports to Alberta Environment. 

Water for Life (2003) outlines adoption of a multi-barrier source-to-tap approach as one of its medium-term actions. However, source water protection planning is not an explicit activity of watershed councils or government. Source water protection may be part of watershed planning in general or land-use planning in general. Most recently a May 2009 document entitled, Alberta Environment's Drinking Water Program: A Source to Tap, Multibarrier Approach (Government of Alberta, 2009a) explains the regulatory framework for Alberta's drinking water.

Source water protection policy does not address protection of First Nations water.

last update: (Apr 07/10)
Wellfield Protection
There is no formal policy.  Water well drilling rules are prescribed in Part 7 of the Water (Ministerial) regulations under the Water Act (2000).
last update: (Apr 26/10)
Groundwater Permitting
Groundwater licensing was enabled under the Water Resources Act (1962) -the Water Act (2000) predecessor.  Permits are not required for domestic use or for traditional agriculture. Well drillers are required to submit completed well logs to Alberta Environment. Groundwater permits are recorded at regional offices. Alberta Environment regulates groundwater under direct influence (GUDI) of nearby surface water as surface water (Government of Alberta, 2009b).

Provincial permitting processes do not apply to Federal lands such as First Nations reserves and communities.

last update: (Apr 07/10)
Storm/Waste Water Management
The Acts and Regulations relevant to municipal wastewater and stormwater management are:

  • Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (2000)
  • Activities Designation Regulation (1996)
  • Approvals and Registrations Procedure Regulation (1993)
  • Release Reporting Regulation (1993)
  • Substance Release Regulation (1993)
  • Wastewater and Storm Drainage Regulation (1993)
  • Wastewater and Storm Drainage (Ministerial) Regulation (1993)
  • Standards and Guidelines for Municipal Water Works, Wastewater and Storm Drainage Systems (2006.
Provincial or territorial policies and strategies do not apply or include First Nations reserves or communities.

last update: (Apr 07/10)
Ecosystem Quality Needs
Watershed management plans can set water quality objectives based on a variety of water uses; ecosystem needs can, but does not necessarily have to, be one of these uses.  Setting these objectives can be for the purposes of reducing water quality impacts on ecosystem quality.  The Bow River Basin Watershed Management Plan (2008), for example, sets out voluntary water quality objectives for water users in the basin.  Watershed management plans may also consider other aspects of watershed management.
last update: (Jan 03/12)
 Water Quantity
Water Conservation Strategy
The Alberta Water Council (a provincial multi-stakeholder advisory group) has developed a framework for sectoral water conservation, efficiency, and productivity planning. The urban municipality sector, and the irrigation sector have developed draft plans for their sectors. Other sectors have also begun drafting such plans (Alberta Water Council, 2009).  It is unclear how these plans will affect individual companies and what will be required of those who do create individual plans without implementation. At this point, these plans have no legal authority.

Specific to the oil and gas sector, the Oilfield Injection Policy, and the Energy Resources Conservation Board's Draft Directive, Requirements for Water Measurement, Reporting, and Use for Thermal In Situ Oil Sands Schemes (2009), provide direction to conserve water use.

Provincial or territorial policies and strategies do not apply or include First Nations reserves or communities.

Learn more about Alberta's conservation initiatives and requirements through the Alliance for Water Efficiency

last update: (Jan 03/12)
Ecosystem Quantity Needs
There are two ways in which ecosystem needs are addressed in the relevant legislation.  One way is through the Water Act (2000) and its provisions for aquatic ecosystem protection; the second is through the use of conservation holdbacks when water rights are transferred.

As a matter of practice government has balanced economic factors with instream flow requirements to determine water conservation objectives (WCO).  For example, in the South Saskatchewan River Basin WCO is set at 45% of natural flow or 15% above what are called instream objectives, whichever is greater. Since instream flow needs typically align with natural flow, 45% of natural flow will not likely meet instream needs.

WCOs are applied according to the first in time, first in right  (FITFIR) priority system and, therefore, WCOs applied in 2005 have a priority of 2005 and cannot affect the licences allocated prior to 2005. To apply the WCO, conditions must be set out in licences and this is done on a prospective basis and does not capture older licenses with greater priority (e.g., older than 2005). Some older licenses have retrofit conditions, which would enable government to stipulate a WCO condition, but to date government has been hesitant to impose such conditions on older licenses (Government of Alberta, 2003).

Conservation Holdbacks (holdbacks) allow the Director to holdback up to 10% of water in a water right transferred to another water user (Government of Alberta, 2003). Holdbacks can only be applied once an approved water management plan is established and approves water rights transfers and conservation holdbacks.  These holdbacks can be documented as WCO licenses with the same priority as the licence out of which it was withheld. They are used if the Director is of the opinion that withholding water is in the public interest to protect the aquatic environment or to implement a water conservation objective (Government of Alberta, 2003).

last update: (Jan 03/12)
Interbasin Transfers

Water transfers out of the country, with the exception of processed water and municipal water, are prohibited under the Water Act (2000). Water transfers between basins are also prohibited under the Water Act, except where authorized by a specific act of the legislature stipulated under the Water Act. There have been at least three such legislative authorizations since the new Act came into force in 2000. Water transfers between basins existing prior to the Water Act are protected, including transfers that are part of the St Mary, Belly, and Waterton system.

last update: (Jan 03/12)
Climate Change Linkage
The Government of Alberta released its Climate Change Strategy (2008).  It mentions water in few instances: One action will "develop a provincial Climate Change adaptation strategy to provide overall direction, identify measures and indicators of climate change, provide a source of information about the impacts, and identify risks and vulnerabilities. It will focus on water, biodiversity, energy, municipal infrastructure, agriculture and forestry... [Also,] within the provincial government, this work must be integrated with land use planning policies, a comprehensive energy strategy, a clean air strategy, technology development and commercialization, provincial water plans, economic development and rural development strategies for the province." (21)

Water for Life: A Renewal (Government of Alberta, 2005) also mentions climate change, unlike the original Water for Life (Government of Alberta, 2003) strategy.

last update: (Jan 03/12)

Document Disclaimer:

Every effort has been made to ensure complete accuracy of the content of this briefing note but this document is only a summary and should not be considered legal or planning advice.  Please refer to the relevant legislation and regulations for further information.


Activities Designation Regulation, Alta. Reg. 211/1996

Agricultural Operation Practices Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. A-7

Alberta Environment and Water. (1999). Framework for Water Management Planning. Retrieved March 26th, 2010, from

Alberta Environment and Water. (2006a). Approved Water Management Plan for the South Saskatchewan River Basin (Alberta) Retrieved March 26th, 2010, from:

Alberta Environment and Water. (2006b). Standards and Guidelines for Municipal Water Works, Wastewater and Storm Drainage Systems. Retrieved March 26th, 2010, from: 

Alberta Land Stewardship Act, S.A. 2009, c. A-26.8

Alberta Natural Resources Act, S.C. 1930, c. 3

Alberta Water Council. (2009). What we've learned: About water conservation, efficiency and productivity sector planning. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Approvals and Registrations Procedure Regulation, Alta. Reg. 113/1993

International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. I-17

Bow Basin Watershed Management Plan Steering Committee. (2008). The Bow River       Basin Watershed Management Plan. Retrieved March 26th, 2010, from:

de Loë R.C., Varghese, J., Ferreyra, C., & Kreutzwiser, R.D. (2007).  Water allocation and water security in Canada:  Initiating a policy dialogue for the 21st century. Guelph, Ontario: Water Policy and Governance Group, University of Guelph.

Department of Justice Canada. (2010a). Information on the Fisheries Act. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Department of Justice Canada. (2010b). Information on the Migratory Birds Convention    Act. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Energy Resources Conservation Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. E-10

Energy Resources Conservation Board. (2009). Requirements for Water Measurement, Reporting, and Use for Thermal In Situ Oil Sands Schemes. Retrieved March 26, 2010 from

Environmental Appeal Board Regulation, Alta. Reg. 114/1993

Environment Canada. (1969). Master Agreement on Apportionment. Retrieved March 26, 2010 from

Environment Canada. (1987). Federal Water Policy.  Retrieved March 26, 2010, from

Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. E-12

Fisheries Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. F-14

Government of Alberta, Environment. (n.d.a). Lakes sampled for water quality in Alberta 2009-10. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (n.d.b). Long-term river network sites for water quality monitoring in Alberta 2009-2010. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta. (n.d.c). Water Act: Licenses: Facts at your fingertips. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (1995). Water quality-based effluent limits procedures manual. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2000). Authorization/approval viewer. Retrieved   March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta. (2003, November). Water for life: Alberta's strategy for     sustainability. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2005). Inventory of sampling locations and water   quality [data file]. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2009). Legislation. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta. (2005, September). Water in Alberta: A renewal. Retrieved           March 7, 2010, from   

Government of Alberta (2008) Alberta's 2008 Climate Change Strategy: responsibility/leadership/action. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from

Government of Alberta. (2008, November). Water for life strategy. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta. (2009a, May). Alberta Environment's drinking water program: A 'source to tap, multi-barrier' approach. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta. (2009b, December). South Saskatchewan Region - groundwater: Facts at your fingertips. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta (2009c) Water for Life Action Plan. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from:

Government of Alberta, Environment (2010) Alberta Environment's approval process. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from:

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2010a). Alberta river water quality index.  Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2010b). Drinking water.Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2010c). Groundwater observation well network. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2010d). Surface water quality program. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Alberta, Environment. (2010e). Legislation and guidelines. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Government of Canada. (1997). Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement.  Retrieved March, 26, 2010 from

Health Canada (2008). Guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality.  Retrieved March 26, 2010, from,

Irrigation Districts Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. I-11

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, S.C. 1994, c. 22

Municipal Government Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. M-26

Navigable Waters Protection Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. N-22

North-west Irrigation Act (1898) under Alberta Natural Resources Act, S.C. 1930, c. 3

Nuisance and General Sanitation Regulation, Alta. Reg. 243/2003, (Public Health Act),

Potable Water Regulation, Alta. Reg. 277/2003, (Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act)

Public Health Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. P-37

Public Lands Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. P-40

Public Utilities Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. P-45

Release Reporting Regulation, Alta. Reg. 117/1993

Safety Codes Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. S-1

Substance Release Regulation, Alta. Reg. 124/1993

Standards and Administration Regulation, Alta. Reg. 267/2001, (Agricultural Operation Practices Act)

Transport Canada. (2009). Acts and regulations. Retrieved March 7, 2010, from

Wastewater and Storm Drainage (Ministerial) Regulation, Alta. Reg. 120/1993

Wastewater and Storm Drainage Regulation, Alta. Reg. 119/1993

Water Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. W-3, Consolidated Statutes of Alberta - Alberta

last update: (Jan 03/12)