Watershed management

Watershed management

Watershed management

A watershed is defined as an area of land where all of the water that drains off of it goes to the same place. In Alberta, watersheds are oriented around our major rivers and lakes. For example, Lake Athabasca is the core of the Athabasca Watershed. All of the rain, snow runoff, and hail that falls in the Athabasca Watershed will eventually drain into the Athabasca River and find its way to Lake Athabasca.

Alberta’s watersheds are vast and are vitally important to our way of life. Everything within a watershed is connected. Changes that happen within a watershed have huge effects on everything living within it, even if those changes are hundreds of kilometres away. For instance, land pollution in the Rocky Mountains could leach into rivers and lakes, impacting drinking water supplies on the other side of the province in Lloydminster. Alberta’s watersheds also flow into our neighbours’ lands on all sides, making our actions in protecting them important on an interprovincial, and international level.

How are watersheds managed in Alberta?

Alberta’s watersheds are split geographically, depending on where water flows. Each watershed is managed by one of eleven Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils (WPACs) in the province. WPACs are responsible for engaging partners and stakeholders in their basin area, including municipal, provincial and federal governments, industrial sectors, conservation groups, aboriginal communities, and the public. For more information about WPACs in Alberta, please visit the Government of Alberta’s Water for Life site.

Below is a map of Alberta’s Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils:

Government of Alberta ESRD, Water for Life 

Land use management

One of the most important ways that we can effectively manage our water is to change the way we manage our land. Land use has many impacts on our watersheds, from encroachment of development on riparian areas and wetlands to creation of impervious surfaces that cause stormwater issues to environmentally damaging uses that leech contaminants into our groundwater. It is vitally important to combine land use management with watershed management to ensure that both our land and water are protected.

To assist municipalities in watershed management efforts, AUMA has assembled a list of resources and developed content that provides an introduction to specific areas of watershed management and AUMA policy on those subjects.

Choose one of the boxes below to find out more about specific areas of watershed management:


Invasive species including dreissenid mussels and Eurasian water milfoil are presenting serious risks to Alberta’s water systems.
Lakes are the focal point of many municipalities. Learn more about challenges and opportunities related to lake management.
Riparian areas are places where the water and land meet, regulating water quality, managing flood water, and stabilizing banks and shores.
Alberta’s water sources include lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, glaciers, and groundwater, all of which are facing challenges.
Effective stormwater systems control runoff, mitigate flooding and prevent pollutants from entering water bodies.
Alberta’s wetlands mitigate floods, trap sediments and contaminants, and provide valuable biodiversity, but they are increasingly at risk.