Source water is untreated water that is used to provide public drinking water and supply wells used for human consumption. Alberta’s water sources include lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, glaciers, and groundwater, all of which are sustained by watersheds and recharge areas in an interconnected cycle. Alberta’s rapid population growth, continued development pressures, and changing climate are all challenges contributing to the increasing pressure to maintain these sources.
Source water is threatened by many contaminants including viruses and bacteria from sewage or septic systems, salts and metals that enter the water supply in industrial or domestic wastewater, pesticides and herbicides from agriculture or residential use, organic by-products from industrial processes or gas stations, or even radioactive contaminants from oil and gas production or mining. In Alberta, source water protection is included in several acts and regulations, including:
- The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act which covers municipal and industrial point-source discharges and pesticide use;
- The Alberta Safety Code which covers private sewage systems;
- The Water Act which contains water well drillers regulation; and,
- Various regulations that require setbacks from water bodies for activities or structures that could adversely affect water quality.
Though there are many regulations designed to protect source water, protection efforts are still a challenge. To be effective, source water protection needs to happen at a watershed level. Contamination of water in one part of a watershed can quickly affect water throughout the watershed. For instance, contamination of water from agricultural use or oil and gas production on one side of the province can impact communities that draw water hundreds of kilometres downstream.
Photo credit: Government of Alberta
AUMA policy on source water protection
AUMA’s 2012 Municipal Water Policies specifically include recommendations for the protection of source water. One of the guiding principles for municipal water policy was identified as “healthy aquatic ecosystems and source water protection are essential to providing Albertans with safe, secure drinking water and reliable quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.”
AUMA members resolved to advocate that Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils place significant attention to source water protection upstream of municipalities to ensure a safe, secure supply of drinking water to our citizens. Members further resolved to encourage and partner with the Government of Alberta to ensure that full cost and water pricing is implemented that will provide enough revenue to cover the full costs of providing water and wastewater services, including source water protection measures.
Resources and examples of source water protection
Municipalities have an important part to play in the protection of source water. Responsible land use is required to prevent contamination of source water. The Government of Alberta has a webpage with information on legislation and guidelines governing source water protection in the province.
For additional information or resources regarding source water protection, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.