The Water Allocation Transfer System Upgrade Project (WATSUP) Team was formed in June 2008 to recommend how Alberta’s water allocation transfer system could be enhanced to better contribute to the Water for Life strategy’s goals.

The team’s work was guided by a Terms of Reference which required them to stay within the scope of the Water Act and focus on improvements to the current water allocation transfer system.

Currently, portions of the South Saskatchewan River Basin are closed to new water licence applications except for First Nations, Water Conservation Objectives (WCO), and water storage projects as per the Approved Water Management Plan. Given that Alberta’s geography and climate result in a variable water supply and the historical system of water allocation is based on fixed volumes contained in licences, the investigation was driven by a need to improve the system’s ability to respond to seasonal and annual variations in flow, increased growth and climate change. While this topic is currently an important issue in the South Saskatchewan River Basin, the report notes that other basins may face similar water allocation challenges in the future. Therefore, the Council thought it was timely to undertake a comprehensive review of the water allocation transfer system in Alberta.

The Council’s final report was released to the public on November 23, 2009 and outlines recommendations for improving the transfer system in six key areas, (1) protected water, (2) a market for transferring water allocations, (3) moving unused water to the market, (4) finding water for the market through conservation, (5) the transfer and application process, and (6) data and information. Consensus was achieved on twenty-one of the report’s twenty-three recommendations, with the areas of non-consensus described within the text of the report. It is felt these areas of discussion will be helpful in creating an informed dialogue on water management issues in Alberta.

The Council’s report feeds into a larger process being undertaken by the Government of Alberta to examine the broader water allocation system. Other reports completed to inform the review include a report examining allocation systems in other jurisdictions completed by the Alberta Water Research Institute, and a report by the Minister’s Advisory Group examining Alberta’s allocation system. It is anticipated that the Government of Alberta will consider input from all three reports and then provide a forum for stakeholder input and review of key ideas.


In March 2009, the Alberta Water Council and Alberta Water Research Institute partnered to host a symposium titled, Water: How Alberta Can Do More with Less! in Calgary. The purpose of the symposium was to improve the knowledge of the WATSUP team, key Council stakeholders and policy-makers regarding water allocation transfer systems in other jurisdictions. The symposium provided an opportunity for stakeholders to engage with international experts from other jurisdictions and obtain information on water transfer systems from around the world.

Conference presentations are available here.