Province should protect watersheds from overdevelopment as the prospect of drought looms for the second year in a row

Report released today highlights the need for better land-use management to address water shortages and reduce water supply and treatment costs

Calgary — The only thing drying up faster than Alberta's water supply is government investment in preventing a long-term water crisis from crippling Alberta's economy and communities. Making the Connection: Water and Land in Alberta, a new report by Water Matters, an Alberta-based water policy organization, indicates that land-use planning processes must secure Alberta's water future by protecting landscapes from overdevelopment.

"The projections for the impacts of climate change and increasing levels of development on our water supply are frightening," says Joe Obad, interim executive director of Water Matters. "Our research indicates that the best way to ensure we have enough water is to invest in protecting our watersheds from overdevelopment. This strategy will also save taxpayers billions of dollars over the long term."

Making the Connection goes public as Alberta braces for what could be the seventh year of below average water supplies in the last decade. Soil moisture is already below average, and below average snow pack means river flows could be well down in the entire South Saskatchewan Basin in 2010. Rainfall forecasts indicate it also will be a drier than average spring. These trends are consistent with predictions about the impacts of climate change on Alberta's water supply by Dr. David Schindler and other reputable scientists.

At the same time, projections suggest that increasing levels of industrial, agricultural and urban development will reduce dramatically the quality and quantity of water in Alberta's watersheds, especially the South Saskatchewan, which will make it more difficult and more expensive to maintain ecosystem health and provide communities with adequate amounts of clean drinking water.

A comprehensive analysis of how land use impacts the health of watersheds, Making the Connection points out the best — and often the cheapest — way to maintain clean drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and abundant fisheries is to not allow them to be compromised in the first place.

"There are many ways the Alberta government can actually save money by investing in maintaining and restoring healthy watersheds rather than multi-million dollar infrastructure costs," Obad says. "New York City politicians, for instance, saved taxpayers $5 billion by protecting the Catskills-Delaware watershed rather than building two new water filtration plants."

These findings come on the heels of provincial budget cuts that could cripple our ability to responsibly managing Alberta's water and other natural resources. Sustainable Resource Development's budget dropped by $42 million, and Alberta Environment saw a budget cut of approximately $16 million, which means less frequent water monitoring in some areas.

"The government needs to emphasize watershed protection in current land-use planning processes," says Obad, "The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan and the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan have the potential to safeguard the health of our watersheds in Alberta."


Making the Connection: Land and Water in Alberta and the accompanying summary can be downloaded at:

For more information, contact:

Joe Obad
Interim Executive Director
Water Matters