Improving Drought Resilience in Alberta Through Simulation

Drought is a natural, recurrent phenomenon in Alberta. Recent studies have shown that we can expect extended droughts to become more frequent in the future, and a number of initiatives are underway in the province to improve drought preparedness. The Government of Alberta (GoA) is developing a Provincial Drought Response Plan that will outline management and communication actions in times of drought.

At the same time, the Alberta Water Council (AWC) is working on building a guide to assist Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils as they engage municipalities to better prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from multi-year droughts. This guide is expected to be completed by fall 2019 and aims to synthesize available information about drought management, tools, and resources in the province. Finally, the Miistakis Institute is also working with a pilot community to develop a process for drought mitigation planning; this project is expected to conclude by June 2020.

Managing drought involves complex monitoring, decision making, and communication before, during and after a drought to mitigate the impacts and respond accordingly, but these are often difficult to plan thoroughly without experiencing a drought. Simulation exercises provide an opportunity to work through a scenario that closely mimics a real-life event, and they can be a powerful tool to test management structure and communication strategies. The Invitational Drought Tournament developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada provides one example of a simulation tool that uses game theory to explore and test drought preparedness.

This project proposes to build on the work being conducted by the AWC, the GoA, and the Miistakis Institute to develop a simulation that will allow communities to test in a workshop environment proposed drought management structure, communications channels, tools, and resources. Throughout the exercise the participants will have to react accordingly, in line with draft plans and resources, highlighting potential issues with implementation. The exercise will lead participants through the initiation of drought through to high pressure and stress on their system, and then into recovery and evaluation phases. The participants will be reflective of the different roles across communities, stakeholders, and government agencies.

For more information on this project, please contact Project Managers Katie Duffett ([email protected]) or Lauren Hall ([email protected]) or see terms of reference.

The project team is currently looking to retain a consultant to help with planning, implementing, and evaluating a simulation exercise.Frequently asked questions and answers about this RFP are provided below:

1) Will the venue, food, materials, and other expenses directly associated with hosting the exercise itself be covered by the AWC and do not need to be accounted for in the proposed budget?

AWC has set aside an additional budget for the expenses associated with hosting the exercise. It does not need to be included in the budget for this project. There is also a chance that this exercise will need to happen virtually.

2)The RFP states “…a simulation exercise focused on the South Saskatchewan River Basin to primarily inform the Alberta Environment and Parks AEP) drought response plan through a vulnerability and risk assessment.” Is the vulnerability and risk assessment going to be done by a separate entity parallel to this simulation exercise, or does AWC need the drought simulation exercise to identify vulnerabilities and risks in the SSRB related to drought? If the latter is the case, please identify which types of vulnerabilities and risks (water supply, economic, health, infrastructure…) and which scale (company, municipal, provincial) are of interest.

The Vulnerability and Risk assessment is an outcome of the simulation exercise and it will inform AEP. We pulled this terminology directly from the table with the "main exercise focuses" on page 58 of the literature review appended to the RFP and linked to here. The project team had envisioned working with the successful proponent to further scale which vulnerabilities and risks would be most appropriate for the selected basin. In terms of scale, that would also be part of the initial scoping decision. Municipalities, companies, and the province would all be stakeholders, but a discussion with the successful proponent would likely include whether we focus on the whole SSRB, or one or more subwatershed(s). 

3) AEP’s Drought Response Plan is referenced in the RFP. Will a draft version of this document be provided to the successful proponent?

Yes.

4) How many participants/attendees would the AWC ideally like to have attend the simulation exercise?

This is to be determined through the scoping and scaling at the beginning of the project work plan. We will have to balance who needs to be there with the budget and limits of the project.

For more information, please see the RFP.

Literature Review

The AWC engaged a consultant to conduct a literature review as the first step towards development of the simulation exercise.

One aspect of this project is the development of a drought simulation exercise to assist stakeholders understanding and planning for drought preparation and response in Alberta. The AWC engaged a consultant to conduct a literature review as the first step towards development of the simulation exercise. The literature review is comprised of three tasks:

1. A drought management review to understand the regulatory framework, historical drought response and drought management approach within Alberta and external jurisdictions of interest.

2. A review of drought simulation exercises conducted in other jurisdictions to identify and assess exercise types, goals and outcomes.

3. A review of interactive decision support tools that can be used to potentially support the AWC simulation exercise.

In addition to Alberta drought management, approaches were reviewed in Saskatchewan, California and South Carolina. For more information about this review, please contact project manager Lauren Hall at [email protected].

Appendices are available upon request. To view the literature review report, see here.