Water Act and Water Rights in Alberta

The Government of Alberta has developed special laws and rights within the legislative constitution to protect water as a natural resource in Alberta. By maintaining sustainable use of the water in present times and conserving water for future generations, we can maintain a healthy environment for ourselves. To facilitate these goals, they introduced Water Act and Water Rights in Alberta.

This topic is important for aspirants who are preparing for the Alberta Real Estate Exams. RECA understands the importance of water as a natural resource and thus, believes in promotion of healthy water management practices and understanding to new Real Estate Agents.

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What is the Water Act in Alberta?

The Water Act is a legislative tool that supports and promotes the conservation and management of water in Alberta. With this statute, the Government of Alberta has committed to protecting existing good standing water rights and water resources for future generations. It recognizes the need for shared responsibility among all Albertans to ensure continued and viable economic growth and prosperity in Alberta.

The Water Act regulates the diversion of water from surface and groundwater sources by a variety of methods including statutory rights for household purposes, registrations for traditional agriculture uses, and licenses. Under certain circumstances, the Water Act may allow for certain diversions to be exempt (for example, firefighting) from licensing requirements. These exemptions are specified in the Water Act – Water (Ministerial) Regulation.

Why is the Alberta Water Act Important?

The Alberta Water Act governs how the Province of Alberta manages water. The purpose of the act is to promote the conservation and management of water while recognizing the need for economic growth and prosperity and flexible management that works cooperatively with governments of other jurisdictions. The water act governs the diversion, allocation, and use of water and regulates and enforces actions that affect water and water use management, the aquatic environment, fish habitat protection practices, and storm water management.


Definition of Water and Water Body in the Alberta Water Act

The Water Act defines Water and Water Body as:

“Water” means all water on or under the surface of the ground, whether in liquid or solid state.

“Water body” means any location where water flows or is present, whether or not the flow or the presence of water is continuous, intermittent or occurs only during a flood, and includes but is not limited to wetlands and aquifers but does not include except for Section 99 “water body” that is part of an irrigation works if the irrigation works is subject to a license and the irrigation works is owned by the licensee, unless the regulations specify that the location is included in the definition of water body. This leads us to Water Rights.


What are Water Rights in Alberta?

Water Rights are also called as Riparian Rights. Riparian Rights give a landowner, whose property is adjacent to or crossed by a natural water resource, the right to access and make reasonable use of the water. Water rights are legislated under the Water Act in Alberta. All the Water bodies in Alberta are owned by the Alberta Government.

However, individuals have the right to use divert or disturb water. This can be done through an exception or with a license. Alberta Water Rights defines the maximum amount of water that is licensed for use. This makes us realize, there is a need of a Water License in such situations.


In Alberta, one may require a License in certain uses of Water. The Government of Alberta issues the Water License to people who apply for the same. Water License runs with the land, which means when the property owner sells the property, the water license will automatically get transferred to the new landowner. Basically, it belongs to individuals who are physically present near the particular body which the license is issued for as they are the ones who are going to use that water body.

When is a Water License Required?

A Water License is required when you need to identify the following:

  1. Water Source
  2. Location of the diversion site
  3. Volume and Rate of Water
  4. Timing of the Water to be diverted
  5. Priority of the Water Right established by the License
  6. Any conditions the diversion must adhere to.

Water Uses that exempt from Licensing Requirements

There are certain uses of water that are exempt from water licensing requirements. They include the following:

  1. Domestic Household Use
  2. Traditional Agricultural Use
  3. Firefighting
  4. Wells equipped with Hand Pumps

Water Licensing Offenses

The Water Licensing Requirements under the Water Act of Alberta strictly adheres to the laws and enforcements listed in the Act. If someone is found guilty of not following the rules mentioned by the Act, it can be declared as a serious offence. It gives the right to the Alberta Government to take legal action against the person who committed the crime.

For Eg: Diverting Water without a License is a crime, and the offender may face Enforcement Action as well as a Fine which could go up to $50,000 for an Individual and $500,000 for a Corporate Identity.


Example 1

Mary Ann is helping her clients by rural property. During her research, Mary Ann finds out that the owner of the property has diverted groundwater without having received authority from the Alberta Government. According to the Water Act, what does the property owner need in order to be able to divert water?

  1. Water Permit
  2. Water Agreement
  3. Water License
  4. Water Easement

The correct answer is 3.

Example 2

Sue Hill is helping her clients John and Mary Jones purchase a small Agricultural Farm. They want to ensure they are able to use the water diversion the previous owner has in place. What should sue tell them about the water license?

  1. They will have to purchase the water license separately from their previous owners
  2. They will need to Apply for the Water License from Alberta Government
  3. They will need to buy the Water License from someone who’s selling it
  4. Water License runs with the Land

The correct answer is 4.

Example 3

Which of the following uses are exempt under Alberta Water Act?

  1. Domestic Household Use
  2. Traditional Agricultural Use
  3. Firefighting
  4. Wells equipped with Hand Pumps
  5. All of the above

The correct answer is 5.

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