Part of Drought

Drought – What government is doing

Learn about recent drought response actions.

Alberta’s drought response

Photo of the plains of Red Deer, Alberta

When it comes to water, we are all in it together. Alberta’s government is working closely with communities, water users and all our partners, to take strong action to prepare for drought. This includes effective and collaborative steps to help conserve and manage water now and be prepared for future water shortages.
 

Provincial water management strategies

  • Monitoring the existing water supply

    Alberta relies on melting snow and rain for most of its water. As of March 2024, snowpack and winter accumulated precipitation conditions in the headwaters of the South and North Saskatchewan River basins range from much below average to average.

    Alberta’s government is closely monitoring snowpack, rainfall, river levels and water use throughout the province through a network of water and snowpack monitoring stations.

    Based on how much snow and rain the province receives, government will work together with partners and water users to help the province manage and conserve water.

    Information on current conditions is updated regularly at:

  • Preparing for the spring and summer

    Drought Command Team

    The province has stood up a Drought Command Team working across departments to prepare for drought and work with water users.  It is led by Environment and Protected Areas and includes experts from Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation, Municipal Affairs, Public Safety and Emergency Services, and connects with other key players like the Alberta Energy Regulator.

    Drought Emergency Plan

    The 2024 Drought Emergency Plan is nearing completion. This document will guide Alberta’s response to drought conditions.

    Modelling

    WaterSMART solutions provided advanced modelling of various potential drought scenarios in the South Saskatchewan River Basin. This technical information helped the government and the province’s major water users explore ways to make the best use of Alberta’s water and helped develop the proposed water-sharing agreements.

    Drought Advisory Committee

    Alberta’s Water Advisory Committee is helping prepare for drought and work to make every drop count in 2024.

    The six-person advisory committee includes leaders with experience in agriculture, irrigation, Indigenous, industry, rural and urban issues. It is acting as an independent sounding board to help the government support communities, farmers and ranchers, and businesses share, conserve and manage water during a potential drought. The committee is giving advice directly to Alberta’s minister of Environment and Protected Areas.

  • Water-sharing agreements

    In February, Alberta’s government began meeting with major water users and other key stakeholders in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (Red Deer, Bow and Old Man basins), to develop voluntary agreements to share water if there’s a severe drought.

    As of late March, water-sharing agreements among major water users in the South Saskatchewan River Basin are nearing completion and are expected to be finalized and ready for implementation, if necessary, this spring. The finalization process for these agreements and next steps were outlined in a letter from Minister Schulz to participating organizations and other stakeholders.

    There are four water-sharing agreements in total, one to cover each of the following sub-basins: the Red Deer River, the Bow River, the mainstem of the Oldman River and the upper tributaries of the Oldman River. Once complete, these agreements will represent the largest water-sharing initiative in Alberta’s history, allowing the province to make the most of limited water supplies and reducing the impacts that a severe drought could potentially have on Albertans and our communities, environment and economy.

    Over 50 organizations participated in the project, including all irrigation districts, TransAlta, Treaty 7 First Nations, various municipalities, and ENGOs. The negotiation of water-sharing agreements was part of a larger effort to ensure water licence holders and all Albertans are well prepared for drought.

  • Working with municipalities and licence holders

    Officials are working with water licence holders, major water users, municipalities and other partners address water shortage issues and develop water-sharing agreements.

    As part of this work, Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz wrote to municipalities asking them to take specific actions to prepare for the risk of severe drought in 2024.

    Minister Schulz also wrote to 25,000 licence holders asking them to develop water conservation plans in case less water is available this year.

    The government’s drought response team has conducted extensive outreach campaign to increase awareness of drought conditions and improve collaboration on water management. As of the end of March, Environment and Protected Areas staff have held nearly 70 one-on-one meetings with communities and other water users to help them prepare for drought.

    The province will be putting in place proactive and effective water management practices by bringing together major water users to collaboratively determine the most effective and fair adjustments to current water sharing agreements to optimize use of the water Alberta receives over the coming months and years.

  • Investing in local drought and flood protection

    Budget 2024 includes $125 million over 5 years for a new Drought and Flood Protection Program to help vulnerable municipalities and Indigenous communities across the province develop the long-term infrastructure needed to improve their drought and flood resilience and adapt to severe weather.

    The Drought and Flood Protection Program will help fund the design and construction of projects that protect critical infrastructure from flooding and drought and help to ensure public safety is protected.

  • Working with industry

    Many industrial operations use significant amounts of water. As with other licence holders, government officials are working with them to develop water conservation plans and water-sharing agreements in case needed.

    As part of this work, the Alberta Energy Regulator issued a bulletin to all major licence holders in December 2023 asking them to begin preparing for the risk of less water available.

    Industry will be included in the province’s work to collaboratively determine the most effective and fair adjustments to current water sharing agreements to optimize use of the water Alberta receives over the coming months and years.

  • Supporting farmers and ranchers

    Government continues working with the agricultural community and to help prepare for 2024. See:

  • Local water restrictions

    In Alberta, water management response is shared with the province, water providers, regional districts, municipalities and Indigenous communities. Some municipalities may implement voluntary or mandatory water restrictions to help conserve water.

    Stay up-to-date by checking with your water supplier and municipality for any conservation directions for your area.

  • Finding long-term solutions

    Alberta’s government is looking at what long-term infrastructure is needed to help manage water supplies for future generations and help reduce the risks of future drought. 

    Budget 2024 includes more than $35 million to help maximize how water is used and help prevent future droughts from affecting communities. Creating a 21st century water-management system and healthy, thriving wetlands and watersheds will provide long-term drought protection and help the economy continue to grow. Included as part of the $35 million is $8.7 million for the Wetland Replacement Program and $3.5 million for the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program to improve Alberta’s natural drought protection.

    Alberta is also investing in technology that will result in new and better ways to manage, conserve and use water. Alberta’s largest innovation agency, Alberta Innovates, has invested more than $75 million through its Water Innovation Program, supporting 101 completed projects, with 65 more in the works.