The land now known as Alberta, has been occupied by people for around 8,000 years. Until less than 150 years ago only the sky and the North Saskatchewan River dominated the views across the sweeping prairie vistas where the City of Edmonton now stands. The success of its continued occupation of these lands will be closely related to the stability and quality of the water supply.
The City of Edmonton straddles the North Saskatchewan River which has its headwaters in the Columbia Icefield, high in the Canadian Rockies. The river flows east across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg before eventually draining through the Nelson River into Hudson Bay.
Water runs through Canada’s rivers like blood through the country’s veins. Since time immemorial, people who have inhabited the Prairies have relied on the rivers to sustain life. The North Saskatchewan River is part of one of Canada’s most historic waterways and has anchored the urban and economic development of much of Canada’s western prairies.
Alberta Oil Sands
Alberta’s economy is one of the strongest in the world and to a significant extent its industries rely on an abundant supply of water. While the Saskatchewan River Basin was once predominately covered with wetlands and grasslands, population increases and industrial land use have placed heavy pressure on the water supply and rendered Alberta the most vulnerable of the Prairie Provinces to water shortages.
Red Deer River and South Saskatchewan River. Near Empress, AB.
This situation is compounded by indications that the mountain supplies of water are diminishing. Most large glaciers in the headwaters of the Saskatchewan, Bow and Athabasca rivers have shrunk by ~25% in the last century. Environment Canada has stated that the sustainability of freshwater supplies is a growing concern worldwide and it lists the threat to water availability in Alberta as moderate to high.