Water Storage Opportunities in the South Saskatchewan River Basin in Alberta

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Water supply in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) in Alberta is naturally subject to highly variable flows. Capture and controlled release of these flows is critical in the management of the available water supply. Expanding population, economic growth and climate variability add additional challenges to managing our limited water supply.

Previous analysis in the SSRB in Alberta Water Supply Study (AMEC 2009) identified remanagement of existing reservoirs and the development of additional water storage sites as potential solutions to SSRB water management challenges.

In 2011, Irrigation Council recommended an investigation into the potential for additional storage in the SSRB to address future water security. AMEC Environment & Infrastructure conducted the study, followed up on the major conclusions in the SSRB in Alberta Water Supply Study, and explored opportunities for additional storage to improve water security in the future, while respecting inter provincial and international apportionment agreements and other legislative requirements. Potential storage sites identified in previous studies were investigated in this study.
Main Report - 7154K
Appendices - 3519K

Study Objectives

The main objectives of the study were to:
  • Summarize future projected water supply and demand in the SSRB
  • Provide an overview of existing reservoirs in the SSRB, their current uses and roles in water management
  • Present a rationale for additional storage in the SSRB
  • Investigate previously identified potential storage sites and evaluate key potential sites for their ability to:
      - Improve security of water to existing users
      - Support downstream aquatic environment
      - Support future needs of First Nations
      - Mitigate impacts of climate change
  • Provide recommendations on future water storage development in the basin
Study Findings
  • Through funding from the Irrigation Council a consultant was contracted to investigate the opportunities for developing additional storage to improve future water security in southern Alberta.
  • After reviewing previous studies and doing additional modeling and analysis, this study determined there is limited opportunity for additional water storage in southern Alberta.
  • The consultant (AMEC) reviewed existing studies and conducted modeling within the boundaries of current regulations and apportionment agreements.

Study Elements
  • The consultant was contracted to review existing studies and conduct modeling to determine the feasibility of developing additional storage to improve future water security, particularly to junior licences, First Nations development and the aquatic environment, in southern Alberta
  • The performance of potential new storage sites was assessed in the context of current regulatory policies, requirements for apportionment (with Saskatchewan and USA) and Water Conservation Objectives (WCO) set out by Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD).
  • Due to the highly variable natural river flows, storage is key to water management in the South Saskatchewan River Basin. Other studies have investigated the opportunities for refining operations of existing reservoirs in the Red Deer and Bow River Sub-basins to benefit in-stream needs and consumptive uses in those regions.
  • This study focused on opportunities for new storage in the Oldman River Sub-basin, due to a high degree of allocation in this basin, high variability of water supply and limited opportunity for re-managing existing reservoir operations.
  • The consultant identified three sites for detailed modelling – Chin Reservoir Expansion (off-stream), St. Mary - Kimball Reservoir (on-stream) and Belly River Reservoir (on-stream).
  • The selected sites were each modeled and evaluated for their ability to improve water security in a future (year 2030) scenario that assumed higher demand by existing water use sectors.
  • The model results in the report are presented as frequencies and magnitudes of shortages to users and to the WCO.
  • Assuming future increased demands, AMEC’s analysis indicated there was insufficient surplus water to fill Oldman River Sub-basin’s Kimball and Belly Reservoirs during dry years, under existing policy and agreements.
  • Both Chin Reservoir and Kimball Reservoir’s model results suggest improved water security to junior non-irrigation users downstream on the St. Mary River. However, these demands are currently supplied through provincial and irrigation district infrastructure and access existing storage to meet needs during non-irrigation seasons.
  • None of the reservoir options modelled provided substantive improvements to WCOs in the rivers.
  • Reservoir operating strategies, alternative to those modelled in this study, may provide more benefit to the aquatic environment.
Note: Alberta WaterSMART also modelled the same three storage reservoirs as this study, but their methodology assumed only current demands, reduced in-stream flow needs and did not actively meet apportionment requirements, so the two study results are not directly comparable.


This project was made possible with funding support from the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
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This information published to the web on August 18, 2014.
Last Reviewed/Revised on August 4, 2016.