Alberta’s Auditor General criticizes province’s water conservation efforts –
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Alberta’s Auditor General criticizes province’s water conservation efforts –

The Alberta Auditor General’s report on July 10 did not fare well for the provincial government.

The report found that the provincial government lacks effective procedures for managing the use of surface water allocations and that there is a lack of public reporting on surface water and surface water management performance.

This is because Alberta’s water resources are under increasing pressure from population growth, resource development, land use changes and climate change.

The audit found that the Department of Environment and Protected Areas had not set any water protection targets for most catchments, did not know whether existing water protection targets were effective, lacked robust procedures for monitoring water pressure, assessing risks and deciding when water protection targets were needed, and had ineffective procedures for approving licences and monitoring compliance.

“Water plays a critical role in Alberta’s economy, supporting key sectors such as agriculture and energy. It is essential to sustaining economic growth and maintaining a high standard of living for current and future generations,” Auditor General Doug Wylie explained in a July 10 news release.

Following the audit, the Auditor General made three recommendations to the Department of Environment and Protected Areas, including establishing a process for determining when to develop, assess and update water conservation objectives; improving licensing and compliance monitoring processes; and providing the public with relevant and credible information on surface water management.

Alberta has seven major river basins, with the northward-flowing basins concentrating the majority of the province’s water resources.

Despite this, most of Alberta’s population lives in its southern part.

In fact, while the South Saskatchewan River Basin is home to 37 per cent of Alberta’s population and provides 68 per cent of the province’s allocated water resources, the basin contains only 13 per cent of Alberta’s surface waters.

According to the audit report, there are currently five water resources management plans in effect, which cover the Lesser Slave Lake and River basins, the Wapiti River basin, the Cold Lake-Beaver basin, the Battle River basin and the South Saskatchewan River basin.

Four of these plans include water conservation targets, but only those for the South Saskatchewan River Basin and the Beaver River Basin have been implemented.

The report also questioned the effectiveness of the water saving targets implemented.

“In the Cold Lake-Beaver River Basin, the goals have not been assessed since they were implemented 18 years ago,” the report says. “Similarly, despite reviews conducted for the South Saskatchewan River Basin, we have not seen a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of its goals in protecting water resources.”

The report added that failure to proactively identify the need to conserve water or evaluate and update existing targets increases the risk of water shortages, which could prevent Albertans from meeting future water needs.

In the report, the Auditor General identified some problems with water use permits and the way they are monitored.

One issue identified was that departmental reviewers often did not properly document key assessments and decisions made during the license approval process.

This includes how licence applicants have met legal and internal requirements.

There was also no evidence that the department took action to assess and resolve any non-compliances before approving the licence.

“Examples include applications being approved despite licensees failing to report water usage or exceeding allocation limits. One transfer was approved despite the licensee having diverted three times the amount of water allocated and operating outside permitted seasons for the previous three years. This raises questions about whether mandatory compliance checks were carried out and what the rationale was for approving the transfer,” the report said.

Among other issues raised, the report also found a lack of evidence that a water availability assessment had been carried out for most new licence applications.

Instead, vague justifications were often given, such as “given the project’s location, there should be enough water,” unsupported by any evidence.

“Alberta could face more severe and frequent droughts,” Wylie said in a release. “Water conservation helps the government manage water allocation and control water use, especially during droughts and shortages. Effective licensing and monitoring ensure water is used appropriately and prevents overuse.”

To read the full report, click here.