The Government of Alberta has unveiled what they're calling the largest water-sharing agreements in the province's history.

Following the warm, dry winter and an El Niño, the province has been preparing for a particularly harsh drought and has been encouraging municipalities and other major water users to do the same.

This morning (April 19), they revealed that agreements have been reached between 38 of Alberta's largest water licensees to reduce water usage under certain drought conditions, providing continued water access for Albertans.

Four Memorandums of Understanding have been reached with groups that represent up to 90 per cent of water usage for the Bow River, Oldman River, and Red Deer river basins, as well as the upper tributaries of the Oldman River basin.

The agreements outline steps to be taken by the participating groups under certain drought conditions, which will be monitored and adjusted as needed.

A media release from the province outlines a general summary of the commitments of the groups involved:

  • Participating municipalities will reduce water consumption by between five and 10 per cent. These are reasonable targets that can be achieved without affecting indoor water use.
  • Participating industries will use only the minimum volume of water practical to maintain safe, reliable operations. They will also look for additional water conservation opportunities.
  • Participating irrigation districts will use less water and allow other users to get their water first, then use the remaining water available for licenced use.

Five triggers will be considered when assessing if an agreement needs to be activated: 

  • Snowpack and moisture data;
  • Final decisions by Irrigation Districts on water allocations per acre;
  • Reservoir levels, river flows and expected 7-day precipitation forecasts;
  • Water demand; and
  • Local challenges or issues.

Environment and Protected Areas Minister, Rebecca Schzulz, stressed that the agreements are voluntary.

The Province will be monitoring conditions and notifying water users if the signed agreement needs to take effect, and will be providing bi-weekly water forecasts to adjust the agreements as conditions change.

They'll also be optimizing operations at provincially owned infrastructure.

RJ Sigurdson, Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation and Highwood MLA, was quoted in the province's release.

"Our irrigation network is essential to southern Alberta, providing much-needed water, good jobs and recreational activities. Thanks to Alberta’s farmers, ranchers, producers, and irrigation districts for stepping up, providing leadership and collaborating with our government."

All four memorandums can be seen on the Government of Alberta website.