Overview

The Government of Alberta uses a number of regulatory tools to help protect groundwater resources. These tools are constantly evolving as we gain more knowledge about groundwater and the cumulative effects of its use. The Government of Alberta continues to work with Albertans to develop new ways to manage groundwater resources.

The tools used to manage groundwater can take many forms. For instance, the Water Act prescribes a mandatory process for licensing groundwater use or authorizing contractors to drill water wells.

Under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, approvals issued to industrial operations include provisions to ensure groundwater quality is adequately monitored and protected. Approvals are also issued to municipalities to ensure water is safe to drink. A listing of some groundwater regulatory documents is provided below.

Legislation

Quantity

Quality

The Authorization Viewer allows you to look up any licences, approvals or other regulatory authorizations issued by Alberta Environment and Parks.

Fact sheets

Information letters

Groundwater information letters are a formal communication from departmental staff to external stakeholders. These letters provide guidance for specific groundwater issues where a need to standardize practices has been identified.

Programs and initiatives

Drinking water

More than 600,000 rural Albertans depend on groundwater for their drinking water supply. Find out more about the department's drinking water program.

Ground source heat exchange systems

Ground source heat exchange systems, completed above the Base of Groundwater Protection, are regulated under the Water Wells and Ground Source Heat Exchange Systems Directive.

An Approval to Drill will be required, as of January 1, 2020, for contractors drilling vertical closed-loop ground source heat exchange wells (cased or uncased boreholes) and installing earth loops for these closed-loop geoexchange systems.

Approval may be issued to a certified journeyman Earth Loop Technician or to a business owner who provides proof of employment of a certified journeyman Earth Loop Technician to operate the drilling machine, drill the boreholes and install and grout the earth loops.

The Directive aligns with ANSI/CSA C448 Series-16, 'Design and installation of ground source heat pump systems for commercial and residential buildings, January 2016'. The Directive outlines standards for:

  • siting and drilling of boreholes
  • materials for earth loop pipes and fittings
  • installing and grouting of earth loops
  • connecting earth loops to header piping
  • heat-transfer fluids
  • reclaiming of earth loops that leak or are no longer being used
  • reporting requirements

Water for Life strategy

The Water for Life strategy sets the water agenda and direction for water management in the province, including groundwater. For more information, see Water for Life: Action Plan.

Water Management Plans

Water Management Plans implemented under the Water Act are sometimes used to manage water resources in specific areas like watersheds. The Cold Lake-Beaver River Water Management Plan includes groundwater management actions based on groundwater quantity and quality assessments conducted by the Alberta Geological Survey:

Land-use framework

The Land-use Framework sets out an approach to manage public and private lands and natural resources to achieve Alberta's long-term economic, environmental and social goals through development of regional plans. Understanding the cumulative effects of multiple activities on the environment is a key aspect of the framework.

The Lower Athabasca and South Saskatchewan regional planning processes were the first to be initiated. Groundwater management is addressed in various strategies under the framework, including development of Groundwater Management Frameworks within the regional areas.

See also Land and resource planning.

Coalbed methane

Development of coalbed methane (CBM) resources has been occurring in Alberta for several years. Various regulatory requirements have been put into place to protect groundwater resources.

The Baseline Water Well Testing Program was initiated in 2006 to capture baseline conditions for water wells prior to the drilling of nearby CBM wells.

Directives

The Alberta Energy Regulator has issued a number of directives that ensure the protection of groundwater resources during coalbed methane development, including:

Other directives and rules and regulations can be found on the Alberta Energy Regulator website.

General information on coalbed methane including its development in Alberta can be found on the Coalbed methane page.

Water conservation and allocation for oilfield injection

Water is sometimes pumped into oilfields to help maintain reservoir pressure, which in turn helps maintain oil production. This process is called oilfield injection.

The Water Conservation and Allocation Policy for Oilfield Injection and its corresponding Guideline support the conservation and management of water and prevent excess use of water during enhanced oil recovery operations. The policy and guideline include specific environmental outcomes that support the goals of the Water for Life strategy.

Oil sands

Protection of groundwater from oil sands development is a key priority for the Government of Alberta. For details see:

Emerging topics

Shale gas development is currently in its infancy in Alberta. However, it could put extra demands on water supplies in certain areas of the province in the future.

Carbon capture and storage is being actively pursued in Alberta to help offset the potential impacts of climate change in the future. Protection of groundwater resources is an important component under this initiative.