As outlined by the Government of Alberta in Water for Life: Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability almost a decade ago, there is a significant need to address Alberta’s water supply challenges and ensure that access to good quality water does not constrain or hamper community development and economic growth. This need has become more acute in southern Alberta with the closure of the South Saskatchewan River Basin to new water licenses, and in the north with the rapid expansion of resource extraction activities.
While the political support for water reuse has grown, research findings for the Alberta Economic Development Authority (AEDA) suggest that current policy has prevented the practical application of water reuse from matching this political will.
Many municipalities or developers have identified opportunities to reuse effluent and use stormwater. However, policy barriers exist that make it challenging to bring these opportunities to reality. For example, some of the barriers are based on ‘the right to use’1 all types of water; understanding how water reuse may affect meeting river requirements including impacts on downstream users, agreements, and aquatic health objectives such as water conservation objectives (WCO) and instream flow needs (IFNs); and the lack of a formal process to evaluate and approve different types of water reuse projects.
If Alberta is to meet growing water demands and maintain a competitive and sustainable economy, the Province must update its water management and reuse policies, address the barriers, and integrate the concepts into its water governance and water management systems.
In May 2013, the Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES) awarded funding for the project "Water Reuse in Alberta: Case Studies and Policy Development to Support Continued Economic Development". AEDA continues to support this work as another financial sponsor of this project. In addition, in the interest of water reuse policy development, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development is another key sponsor of this work. Part of this work will work on case studies throughout the Province. As such, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and a group in the Calgary Region are participating, including the City of Calgary, Rocky View County, the Western Irrigation District, and Westhoff Engineering are participating and funding this project in various capacities. Lastly, Alberta WaterSMART is working with the Alberta Water Council (AWC) on the AWC Water Reuse Conference, Re-fresh: The Confluence of Ideas and Opportunities on Water Reuse, which will be held on June 25th and 26th in Calgary. Engineers, policy specialists and researchers at Alberta WaterSMART are guiding and developing the project to success.
In 2012, when interest in water reuse from various different stakeholders including the government, the public, municipalities and developers became a greater priority, Alberta WaterSMART was commissioned to undertake a study for AEDA to investigate water reuse experiences throughout the province, and identify the potential impacts on economic growth if water reuse was not encouraged as a tool for water efficiency and productivity.
Nine key findings, and corresponding recommendations were made in this study. Although water reuse is currently practiced throughout the province in many different ways, research findings suggested that provincial legislation has prohibited the practical application of water reuse from matching a growing political will to support reuse.
These challenges will be investigated in this phase of work, which began in May, 2013. The project "Water Reuse in Alberta: Case Studies and Policy Development to Support Continued Economic Development" will:
- Define water reuse and note sources of water that are part of the definition, including stormwater, to promote more efficient discussion between stakeholders, including who receives the economic benefit of treating water for reuse;
- Clearly articulate the linkage between return flow and water reuse to better understand implications of water reuse on river flows;
- Conduct three geographically distinct case studies to better understand the challenges of each case study organization, identify alternative solutions and address the economic impact of each alternative, and identify opportunities for flexibility in regulations to accommodate regional needs;
- Develop policy recommendations that would allow these case study solutions to be implemented; and
- Leverage project outcomes to implement and improve the management of reused water and stormwater in the case study communities.
The project will be completed over a period of 16 months. An Interim Report was submitted to the Steering Committee on January 31st, 2014 outlining barriers and policy options with respect to definitions, and reuse implications on return flow. Subsequently, the case studies will be assessed to test policy options identified in the Interim Report. Findings to date will be presented at the Alberta Water Council Water Reuse Symposium "Re-fresh: The Confluence if Ideas and Opportunities on Water Reuse" to obtain multi-stakeholder feedback, and the final report will be submitted in November, 2014.
Through our work in this project, our hope is that water reuse can be an effective and well managed tool for improved water resource management in Alberta.