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14th January 2016
By Amanda Symynuk, Bow Valley Crag & Canyon
Friday, December 18, 2015 11:10:38 MST AM

A new study by the Alberta Water Portal Society is researching the effects of the increasing demand and competition for water in the Bow River Basin.

“There are a number of competing demands for water in southern Alberta, or in the Bow in particular, and what this project is doing is helping develop a knowledge base around helping decision makers work on water allocations and further progress in water management,” said Mark Bennett, executive director of the Bow River Basin Council.

The Alberta Water Portal Society provides information on ground and surface water conditions, water management innovations, best practices and conservation programs. The pilot project is the first of its kind in Alberta. Researchers will analyze the existing watershed and industry data within the Bow River sub-basin and calculate water usage and how water should be managed on a regional basis.

The Bow Valley is located in the area of the Bow River Basin and, at a population of 1.2 million, it is the most highly populated river basin in Alberta.

“That is an indicator of the challenges we face because they have to eat. They have to have energy. There has to be economic development, environmental protection, all of these things have to happen in this basin,” Bennett said.

Bennett said that water quality is important, but this particular project is geared towards water quantity and the study looks at where the water is, where it goes and what it is used for.

In addition to human use, the climate also impacts how the amount of water in the Bow River Basin will change. Bennett said that layered on top of all of the consumption is the issue of climate variability. Climate change can amplify the already variety of changes that are experienced in the area.

“Even if you pretended that climate change was not real, there is plenty of evidence to suggest in this part of the world, on the east side of the Rockies, we get wild fluctuation in climate, particularly with precipitation over time,” he said. “Many of us have seen that, for example, flow in the Row River is noticeably different in various years.”

The Bow River Basin has been on the academic radar for a while. Bennett said the supply is most likely not changing but the demand is increasing so they have to do a study like this so “we can best adapt to these changing conditions.

The project is sponsored by Enbridge, Veolia North America, and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

“It’s about demonstrating how careful and collaborative we need to be in making decisions that may have irreversible consequences,” said Linda Coady, Chief Sustainability Officer of Enbridge in a press release.

Also, from a land use perspective, the Alberta Nexus Project is an opportunity to identify and consider competing land and water uses in Alberta’s most populated sub-basin.

“We wanted to be involved in this pilot because the water management challenge is only going to get bigger. The expected increases in food production and population growth means if we keep approaching water as we have in the past, we risk jeopardizing a sustainable and prosperous future in Alberta,” said Gary Willson, Chair, Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

So far, the context information and background of the study is available online at In early 2016 the Alberta Water Portal will have case studies using real data scenarios and results of water demands are expected by the end of March 2016.