Part of Drought

Drought – Water allocation and apportionment

Alberta closely tracks how our water is used and ensures appropriate volumes are passed on to neighbouring jurisdictions.

Water allocation in Alberta

Water licence holders in Alberta must specify the volume they plan to withdraw and purpose for which it will be used. This information:

  • helps the Government of Alberta track changes in water allocations over time
  • supports an informed response to drought and water shortage situations

Provincewide water use

Source and purpose

Most water used by Albertans and various industries is drawn from surface water sources, although groundwater is also available for allocation.

Pie charts: 2023 Total Water Allocations by Source; 2023 Allocations by purpose

Table 1. 2023 Total water allocations by source

Source: Government of Alberta – Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas
SourceWater allocation (%)
Surface water96.2
Total licensed volumes: 9.73 billion cubic metres

Table 2. 2023 Total water allocations by purpose

Source: Government of Alberta – Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas
PurposeWater allocation (%)
Oil and gas9.6
Water management3.6
Total licensed volumes: 9.73 billion cubic metres

Consumptive surface water allocations by river basin

Not all water withdrawn is permanently removed from our river systems. The Government of Alberta tracks consumptive and non-consumptive use of water so we know how much of the water allocated will eventually be treated and returned to our environment.

Consumptive water use is any type of water use that reduces or eliminates the overall volume of water available for other uses. For example, watering your lawn is considered consumptive, because the water used is retained by the grass to promote growth, with a certain percentage evaporating into the air.

Non-consumptive water use generally refers to water used in such a way that it is available for other uses. Many indoor water uses are considered non-consumptive, such as running your dishwasher or taking a shower, because this water flows back into treatment systems that eventually return the water to primary sources.

Horizontal bar graph: 2023 Surface Water Allocations by River Basin Compared to Average Natural Streamflow Volumes

South Saskatchewan River Basin

With nearly 680,000 hectares of irrigated land, Alberta has the largest irrigated area in Canada. More than 80% of this area is in 13 irrigation districts located in the South Saskatchewan River Basin. Because of this, the mix of water use in southern Alberta is different than it is in other areas of the province.

Bar and pie charts: South Saskatchewan River Basin - Total water allocations by sub-basin and specified use (2023)

Table 3. 2023 South Saskatchewan River Basin total water allocations by sub-basin and specified use

Source: Government of Alberta – Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas
Use typeBow (%)Oldman (%)Lower S. Sask (%)Red Deer (%)
Industry and commercial2.21.611.416.4
Management and habitat4.48.30.516.2
Oil and gas0.

Water apportionment

Alberta is required to share water with neighbouring jurisdictions. Our transboundary water agreements outline Alberta’s obligations and entitlements for shared waters with British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and the United States.

We work cooperatively with our neighbours to ensure our province both receives and passes along the appropriate amount of water.

Three transboundary water agreements are in place for waters flowing through Alberta:


Connect with Environment and Protected Areas’ Outreach Services:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-3773 (in Alberta)
Email: [email protected]