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Good Data, Better Water Decisions: The Alberta Water Tool

New online tool provides direct access to information needed for sustainable water management decisions in Alberta.

Imagine you’re an Alberta-based oil and natural gas producer looking to build or expand a production facility. A key element of your planning process would be to assess your water needs. This requires a clear understanding of water availability for your site and potential regional environmental impacts. Your analysis is complicated by the fact that in any given region there are multiple water users and key stakeholders, along with seasonal variations in water flow and use.

How to navigate this challenging landscape—ensuring industry can access the water it needs without negatively impacting water use for communities and other local users?

“Companies typically hire consultants who sift through different data sources while conducting site-specific field research,” says Robert Martens, special advisor for Western Canadian Operations at CAPP. “It’s a costly and time-consuming process. The thing is, a lot of the key data is already available online.”

"The Alberta Water Tool supports greater understanding and transparency about water resources and how they are used in Alberta."

Robert Martens, special advisor for Western Canadian Operations at CAPP

Martens sits on a committee that provides expertise on water issues for Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC). PTAC is an industry association that serves as a neutral non-profit facilitator of collaborative R&D and technology development. It works in partnership with stakeholders, effectively leveraging financial resources and technical expertise.

Recently, PTAC provided support for a tool that promises to greatly improve decision making related to water use in the province. That tool is the Alberta Water Tool.

“The Alberta Water Tool is an online portal that integrates multiple data sources and provides a simple, one-stop place for users to get information on water use and availability in western Alberta,” says Martens.

“It’s a powerful tool that provides significant benefit by improving efficiency and reducing costs to oil and natural gas producers in Alberta,” adds Tannis Such, director of environmental research initiatives at PTAC.

The web portal consists of an intuitive map-based interface. Users can click on a region of interest and instantly generate a comprehensive report that includes data on: licensed water allocations; timing and volume of natural flows in rivers, lakes and streams; and the water needs of the environment in a watershed context.

Ben Kerr, CEO and senior water scientist for Foundry Spatial says the Alberta Water Tool provides science-based information companies, governments and others can use to make good water-management decisions.

The data comes from an analysis engine that gathers, crunches and presents hydrological data from hundreds of federal, provincial, and municipal hydrometric monitoring stations that are continuously updated. The tool also incorporates hydrology modelling science generated from the Integrated Assessment of West Central Alberta project. The Water Tool’s reporting interface then turns all of this raw data and science into a meaningful, detailed and helpful report.

The Alberta Water Tool was developed by water scientists at Foundry Spatial, an environmental science and consulting firm based in Victoria, B.C.

“Making intelligent decisions about water use requires robust, science-based information,” says Ben Kerr, CEO and senior water scientist for Foundry Spatial. “The Alberta Water tool makes this information available.”

The tool follows the approach successfully employed in the development of the B.C. Northeast Water Tool (NEWT) in 2012, which has been recognized with innovation awards for contributions to sustainable water management. Since then, water tools have been developed across more than a million square kilometres of Western Canada.

“When we look at the accuracy of the tool, it’s consistent with the best of the hydrology modelling available, really, anywhere in the world,” notes Allan Chapman, former senior water resource specialist for the BC Oil and Gas Commission. Chapman calls the tool a “revolutionary change.”

“Through support from organizations like PTAC and CAPP, we’re able to offer this tool free of charge to industry,” says Kerr. “We think it’ll enhance water decision making, enabling all Albertans to act responsibly with water resources by providing trustworthy real-time information.”

“When we look at the accuracy of the tool, it’s consistent with the best of the hydrology modelling available, really, anywhere in the world."

Allan Chapman, former senior water resource specialist for the BC Oil and Gas Commission

Kerr notes that the tool currently provides information on 181,000 unique watersheds located in the key development region of west-central Alberta. There are plans to add other regions based on interest.

Martens adds that the Alberta Water Tool is also available to government, communities and the public. “In addition to helping industry, the Alberta Water Tool supports greater understanding and transparency about water resources and how they are used in Alberta,” says Martens.

The Alberta Water Tool was created with the support of the Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund, the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada, CAPP, the National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program and Tecterra.

To start using the Alberta Water Tool, visit: https://alberta-watertool.com/

In this article, Context speaks with:
  • Ben Kerr, Foundry Spatial
    Ben Kerr CEO and Senior Water Scientist, Foundry Spatial
  • RM
    Robert Martens Special Advisor for Western Canadian Operations at CAPP
  • TS
    Tannis Such Director of Environmental Research Initiatives, Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada