Part of Drought

Drought – What government is doing

Learn about recent drought response actions.

Sharing and conserving water across Alberta

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.

Water-sharing agreements

Major water users in the South Saskatchewan River Basin have signed water-sharing agreements to help mitigate the risk of severe drought.

These agreements 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.

Highlights of water-sharing agreements

Water-sharing agreements are designed to be proactive, risk-based and agile enough to be adjusted in real time. In broad terms, the agreements call for the following:

  • Participating municipalities will reduce water consumption by between 5 and 10%.
  • Participating industry will use only the minimum volume of water practical to maintain safe, reliable operations.
  • Participating irrigation districts will use less water and allow other users to get their water first, then use the remaining water available for licensed use.

There are 4 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. Thirty-eight major water users have signed on to one of the agreements. Details of each of the 4 agreements are outlined below.

To ensure the water conservation efforts of southern Alberta’s largest water users have maximum effect, Minister Schulz has requested that all other licence-holders (who are non-signatory to the agreements) match the water conservation and reductions as those set out in the agreements. Find full details of these expectations on Drought – Information for Water Licence holders and municipalities.

Negotiation process

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) in February. The finalization process for these agreements and next steps were outlined in a letter from Minister Schulz to participating organizations and other stakeholders at the end of March.

Over 50 organizations participated in the project either as a potential signatory or as an observer, 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.

Alberta’s Drought Response Plan

Alberta’s new 2024 Drought Response Plan is in place and guiding the province through any and all drought conditions. This is a multi-stage roadmap, covering everything from conservation plans and water-sharing agreements to declaring an emergency and prioritizing water for human health and safety.

Read the news release: Alberta releases drought response plan (May 2, 2024)
Review the plan: Alberta’s Drought Response Plan
Download the fact sheet: Drought Response Plan fact sheet

The Drought Response Plan is being used to help government, irrigators, communities, businesses and others respond quickly and effectively to a wide range of drought conditions. The plan outlines:

  • five stages of Alberta’s drought response
  • roles and responsibilities of partners, including government, to help everyone collaborate and communicate
  • regulatory and non-regulatory approaches and tools that may be used in various drought conditions
  • how and when emergencies would be declared as a last resort

Plan objectives

Alberta’s Drought Response Plan outlines the government’s actions during all 5 stages of drought response. The objectives of the plan are:

  • Protecting the health and safety of Albertans from the impacts of drought.
  • Minimizing the impacts of drought on Alberta’s communities, economy and the environment.
  • Implementing a proactive, risk-based approach, to rapidly assess, prepare for and respond to the impacts of a drought.
  • Ensuring response to drought conditions are agile and adjusted in real time as information changes.
  • Enabling all Albertans to take appropriate action, to conserve water and work together.

The 5 stages of provincial drought response

  • Stage 1: Monitoring and observation

    Water availability trend is a concern.

  • Stage 2: Active management

    Droughts are predicted to occur.

  • Stage 3: Priority call and/or risk to interprovincial apportionment

    Assessment and administration of priority. Assessment and enhanced management of interprovincial apportionment.

  • Stage 4: Significant water shortage in multiple Water Management Areas

    Many water users challenged to access water. Significant basin or provincial scale drought conditions.

  • Stage 5: Urgent and critical escalation of drought conditions

    Emergency measures need to protect human health and public safety, critical infrastructure, livestock welfare and critical environmental needs.

Triggers for Stage 5 – Declaring an emergency under the Water Act

Alberta is currently at Stage 4 of the Drought Response Plan. Government is now working proactively with major water users using all the existing regulatory and non-regulatory tools available.

Under the 2024 Drought Response Plan, Alberta would only declare an emergency under the Water Act as a last resort. Alberta has never declared an emergency under the Water Act. The 3 triggers that may lead to an emergency declaration are:

  1. If there is not sufficient water available for the priority uses - human health and safety is the top priority, followed closely by ensuring sufficient water supplies for critical infrastructure, livestock welfare and critical environmental needs.
  2. If there is increasing distress from local authorities or if local authorities are unable to respond to issues caused by drought. For example, if a state of local emergency is declared or if the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre is activated at level 3 or higher.
  3. If Alberta’s water management system becomes so overwhelmed that staff cannot process or implement regulatory measures in a timely manner, impeding the drought response.

Emergency declarations are temporary and allow the government to prioritize water uses. They do not replace the regulatory requirements of the Water Act and would only apply to a specific location.

Priority uses for water in an emergency

In the event that Alberta declares an emergency under the Water Act, water use for human health and safety is the top priority, followed closely by ensuring sufficient water supplies for critical infrastructure, livestock welfare and critical environmental needs.

Human health and public safety

  • Drinking water
  • Potable water for cleaning, bathing and cooking
  • Water for health care facilities
  • Maintaining adequate pressure in municipal distribution and wastewater collection systems

Critical infrastructure

  • Power plant operations essential to maintain core service levels and electricity grid stability
  • Emergency services (for example, maintaining fire flow pressure within municipalities)

Critical environmental needs

  • Prevent the loss of a species at risk or associated critical habitat
  • Flow to dilute wastewater releases

Livestock welfare

  • Livestock watering
  • Disease prevention and containment

Supporting water licence holders and Albertans

  • Monitoring the existing water supply

    Alberta relies on melting snow and rain for most of its water. 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:

  • Responding to drought this 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.


    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 develop water-sharing agreements for the South Saskatchewan River Basin. These are the largest water-sharing agreements in provincial history and now in place.

    Water Advisory Committee

    Alberta’s Water Advisory Committee is helping the province respond to 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.

  • 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 respond to water shortages or drought conditions this summer.

    As part of this work, Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz wrote to municipalities asking them to take specific actions to prepare.

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

    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 beginning of May, Environment and Protected Areas staff have held more than 80 one-on-one meetings with communities and other water users to help them prepare for drought.

  • 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:

  • 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.



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]