ssask3Water management, regulation and governance in the South Saskatchewan River Sub-basin (SSRSB) have a long and inter-related history involving public and private stakeholders. This history is a reflection of economic development and water conditions and watersheds across the region that can vary significantly from north to south, and west to east.

Portions of the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) have been granted water allocations to such an extent that Alberta Environment no longer accepts applications for water allocations in the Bow, Oldman and South Saskatchewan River sub-basins.

The Water Act defines both approvals and licenses. Approvals govern the construction of works, or the undertaking of an activity within a water body, such as the operation of a water or wastewater treatment plant. Licenses govern the diversion and use of surface water or groundwater. Licenses are given a priority number based on the date that the complete application was received by AENV. Licenses to divert water are not required for statutory household use or traditional agriculture use up to 6,250 cubic meters per year.
Read more… about Conor Ruzycki, an Engineering student at the University of Alberta, engaged by SEAWA to research Land Use Planning and Water Licensing and Allocation in the South Saskatchewan River Sub-basin.

Read more… about definitions and terminology for water licences, allocations and use in Alberta.

Reports on Water Allocation, Use and Management

The following reports provide a cross-section of research and analysis on water allocation, use and management.

Learn more about how water availability defined settlement and growth on the Prairies, and continues to do so. In this Special Water Edition of The Western Producer (Dec/09 – pdf, 21.7MB), the focus is on water and agriculture.

Water Allocations (288 million cubic meters)

(source: Alberta Environment)
In 2010, total annual licensed surface and groundwater allocations in the South Saskatchewan River Sub-basin (SSRSB) was 288 million cubic meters.These licences assume that up to 208 million cubic meters will be used (consumption plus evaporative and seepage losses), and includes a return flow allowance of 80 million cubic meters.

Surface water allocations comprised 97 percent of total allocations, while ground water allocations reflected 3 percent of total allocations.

These water allocations allowed for up to 170 million cubic meters to be diverted for municipal purposes, representing 59 percent of all licensed surface and ground water allocations in the SSRSB. Urban users account for 99 percent of this allocation, while the other one percent has been allocated to rural users (cooperatives, farmsteads, single-multi homes and Hutterite colonies). The City of Medicine Hat accounts for about 163 million cubic meters of the water allocation for municipalities.

The allocation for the City of Medicine Hat is larger than allocations of other cities of similar size because the City has its own power plant, which withdrawals water under the municipal licence.

The agricultural sector (irrigation and stock watering) accounts for 25 percent of total allocations, or 62 million cubic meters of water. The industrial-commercial sector accounts for about 11% of licensed water allocations, while other purposes account for the remaining 5 percent (9 million cubic meters annually) of total surface and ground water allocations. Click here, to view the detailed surface and ground water allocations for the South Saskatchewan River Sub-basin (SSRSB).

Across the South Saskatchewan River Sub-basin (SSRSB), the level of water allocations range from 70% to 80% of natural flows.
Read more… about water approvals, licences, registrations and permits (Alberta Environment: Water Licence Viewer).

Estimated Water Use (66 million cubic meters, 2005 estimate)

(source: Alberta Environment Current and Future Water Use in Alberta)


With respect to actual use, the exact volumes withdrawn and used in 2005 are not precisely known because not all water users filed few water use reports with Alberta Environment. However, based on the information and assumptions, it is estimated that 66 million cubic meters were actually used in 2005.

This represents 32 percent of water use allowed in existing licences and registrations.

Agriculture and irrigation accounts for about 42 percent (28 million cubic meters) of estimated annual water use. After accounting for return flows, municipalities account for only about 12% of estimated water use. The commercial sector accounts for about 2% of estimated use, while the industrial sector accounts for about 26% of estimated water use (17 million cubic meters) in the SSRSB.

The petroleum sector accounts for about 7% of estimated use, and Other Purposes also accounts for about 11% of estimated annual water use.
Read more… about water allocations and estimated water use in the South Saskatchewan River Sub-Basin (SSRSB).

Water Allocations (South Saskatchewan River Basin, 2008)

The South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) includes the Oldman, Bow, South Saskatchewan and Red Deer Rivers.

Excluding flow contribution from the Red Deer sub-basin, the South Saskatchewan River is approaching 72 per cent allocation. Note that allocations are not a direct measure of actual use; rather they represent the maximum amount of water that can be used under the terms of licences issued, when and if sufficient water is available in the quantities licenced in a given year.

Relative levels of water allocation range from 20 per cent of natural flow in the Red Deer River sub-basin, to almost 70 per cent of natural flow in the Oldman River and Bow River sub-basins and from 70% to 80% of natural flow across the South Saskatchewan River Sub-Basin. (source: Alberta Environment)