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The Drought Resiliency of Groundwater in Alberta

Albertans are blessed with big skies and panoramic mountain views which are the envy of many around the world. However, being in the lee of the Rocky Mountains, we experience drought conditions, which vary by region, duration and severity. Southern Albertans typically rely of rivers to sustain our municipal, industrial, agricultural, recreational and residential water requirements. As such, southern Albertans are amongst those most impacted by droughts, and associated low river flow conditions. For example, in 2017 the Alberta government issued 40 water shortage advisories across Alberta, with some towns south of Calgary banning non-essential outdoor water use. For the Sheep and Highwood rivers and Fish Creek, the province suspended issuing temporary diversion licences. These measures are in addition to the broader 2006 moratorium that the province placed on issuing surface water diversion licences in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB).

Although various restrictions apply to accessing surface water in southern Alberta, the restrictions do not apply to groundwater. Thus, to mitigate the risk associated with surface water availability during droughts, water managers and planners often turn to water wells (i.e., a groundwater supply) to augment, or replace their existing surface water supplies. Groundwater supplies can also provide a sustainable water resource to meet the future development needs of the community or industry. Unlike surface water, groundwater is typically not subject to seasonal supply variability. Moreover, groundwater quality is consistent and is not subject to seasonal and storm-related fluctuation (e.g., turbidity, bacteria, BOD, COD, etc.), or to erosion or deposition of sediments at river intake structures. Water wells are drilled and tested to determine their sustainable water yield. The water wells are then licensed by the province in a manner that protects the interests of current and future generations.

Contact Waterline to learn more about groundwater, and to see whether a groundwater supply could be developed to augment, or replace your existing surface water supply to help you improve your drought resilience.

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