For the first time since 2001, water-sharing agreements are set to be negotiated in Alberta.

The provincial government has authorized the Drought Command Team to negotiate water-sharing agreements with major water licence holders in the Red Deer River, Bow River and Old Man River basins.

It's part of the greater effort to prepare Alberta for severe drought conditions expected this year, due in part to below-average snowpack and low river levels.

At the moment, there are 51 water shortage advisories in effect in Alberta.

Across the province, over 25,000 hold licences for more than 9.5 billion cubic metres of water.

Under water-sharing agreements, major licence holders would be asked to take less water in to ensure there's enough to go around if or when severe drought conditions occur.

Participation in water-sharing agreements will be voluntary.

Protected Areas Minister Rebecca Schulz will be sending a letter to licence holders on Feb. 1.

"Water licence holders will be asked to voluntarily take less water in order to ensure that there is water available for as many users as possible. These negotiations will be the largest water-sharing effort that has ever been initiated in Alberta and the first since 2001," reads the letter.

In the letter, Schulz requests that licence holders take a few actions, including reviewing the conditions of their licences, taking action to invest in water conservation technology, and developing drought plans.

Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation and Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson was quoted in a media release from the province.

"Drought is something our farmers and ranchers have experienced before. Based on that experience, our irrigators and agricultural producers have done an amazing job to manage their operations during tough times. I also want to be clear, that Alberta producers are leaders in water conservation, environmental stewardship, and I am proud of the work they do. As always, Alberta’s government is doing everything we can to help producers impacted by drought, and our producers have always stepped up to work together to build solutions that are in the interest of the entire province."

Negotiations are set to start on Feb. 1.