Water is arguably the most critical natural resource to Alberta’s future. The quantity and
quality of water will shape the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of Alberta’s
future. The quality of life in Alberta will depend on our ability to allocate this finite resource in
both an efficient and environmentally responsible manner.
The issue addressed in this research is how Alberta’s current water policies manage
“sleeper rights” and why these policies need to be updated. Sleeper rights describe water licenses
that are allocated to a water user but are not fully utilized. This allocated but under-utilized water
is important because it helps Alberta’s major watersheds to meet its instream flow needs (IFNs).
IFNs refer to the amount of water that aquatic ecosystems require to provide Albertans with safe
and secure drinking water; healthy aquatic ecosystems; and reliable quality water supplies.
By the end of 2005, the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
(AESRD) had allocated approximately 9.5 billion cubic metres of water throughout Alberta. By
the end of 2010, this had increased to 9.9 billion cubic metres. The three sectors representing the
highest water demands and allocations in Alberta are the agricultural sector (44.3%), commercial
sector (29.5%), and municipal/ domestic sector (11.3%). However, not all of these allocations are
fully utilized. By some estimates, as much as 45 percent of water allocated under license in
Alberta remains unused.