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What does Community Resiliency look like for Drinking Water?

Community resiliency can be understood as a community’s capacity to recover quickly from disturbances or disruptions, adapt to changes, and sustain itself over the long term. In the context of a watershed, such as the Athabasca watershed, community resiliency is intrinsically linked to the health and sustainability of the freshwater system. 

In the Athabasca watershed, community resiliency manifests as a multi-faceted approach aimed at sustaining both human and ecological systems. The watershed serves as a lifeblood for agriculture, industry, and day-to-day living, meaning its health directly impacts community welfare. Resilient communities within this watershed are thus those that integrate sustainable water resource management into their planning and behavior. This includes embracing best management practices like riparian buffer zones to protect against soil erosion and contamination, and low-impact development techniques to manage stormwater runoff effectively.

Beyond technical measures, community resiliency also implies strong social networks, local knowledge exchange, and stakeholder collaboration. Organizations, municipalities, and individual citizens collaborate on watershed conservation efforts, often facilitated by NGOs and governmental bodies. This network enables swift and effective responses to challenges like pollution incidents or extreme weather events, which pose immediate risks to freshwater quality and availability.

Moreover, resilient communities invest in education and awareness-raising, ensuring that future generations are equipped with the knowledge and values to act as stewards of the watershed. They also leverage scientific data and traditional ecological knowledge to monitor watershed health, thereby allowing for evidence-based decision-making.

Resiliency in the Athabasca Watershed, therefore, is not merely a set of technical solutions but a holistic, community-driven effort to harmonize human and ecological needs for a sustainable future.

Context and Explanation:

Best Management Practices: Practices like riparian buffer zones are areas of vegetation near water bodies that help mitigate the impact of human activity on the water, thus contributing to water quality and ecosystem health.

Low-Impact Development Techniques: These are designed to mimic natural water flows, thereby reducing the impact of built areas on hydrology. Techniques could include permeable pavements and green roofs.

Social Networks and Collaboration: A strong social infrastructure aids in the quick dissemination of information and facilitates a collective response to crises, contributing to overall resiliency.

Education and Awareness: A community educated about the importance of watershed health is more likely to make decisions that are sustainable in the long run.


Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Scientific Data: These are important for making informed decisions that benefit both humans and the environment. They provide a rich and nuanced understanding of the local ecosystem.

Safe, secure drinking water is one of the three main goals of Alberta’s Water for Life strategy. The Athabasca Watershed Council has adapted this goal into our Integrated Watershed Management Plan. In order to achieve this goal, we need to know the current state of drinking water in the watershed. Virtually all residents in the Athabasca watershed have access to clean drinking water with no long-term water advisories, but we’d also like to know how resilient community drinking water supplies are across the watershed, and ensure that we’re protecting our source water.

The Athabasca Watershed Council is delighted to have supported SAIT’s Integrated Water Management Program in the past. Building on Laura Nethery’s capstone project on Community Drinking Water Resiliency, we’ve made strides to expand our understanding of the watershed’s complexities. Laura engaged with community leaders across the Athabasca watershed to assess the state of drinking water resiliency, culminating in a comprehensive report viewable HERE.

Our ongoing commitment to this issue has recently been enriched by a collaborative partnership with the University of Alberta’s Adaptation Resilience Training (ART) program. This initiative paired recent graduates with organizations aiming to develop community resilience against future climate risks. Thanks to ART’s financial support, we welcomed Caity Seifert to contribute to our mission of promoting the “Water For Life” goals centered around secure, sustainable drinking water supplies.

Over an 8-month period, Caity undertook extensive research to identify climate-related factors that could influence the Athabasca Watershed’s water sources. She compiled a robust list of tools and resources that can guide community planning efforts, while simultaneously engaging with water utility managers to provide a comprehensive map of public water sources. This climate change resiliency document can be viewed here

Caity’s final report serves as a resource detailing water sources for 74 identified communities reliant on 31 unique water sources. The report delves into how climate factors—both historical and predicted—will impact these water sources. Designed to offer a localized perspective on climate change, this project is an initiative to prompt communities to build resilience around their local water sources. 

We are pleased to be working with another ART Program intern, Shayla Watson. Shayla’s project will seek to organize workshops that bring together communities in the upper, middle, and lower reaches of the Athabasca Watershed to discuss and collaborate on the various tools, opportunities and barriers to building community resilience in the Athabasca Watershed. 



Read the first issue of this year’s Athabasca Dispatch, which was focused on drinking water and source water protection:

Athabasca Dispatch Vol.4 Issue 1

Learn more about what the Alberta Water Council is doing about source water protection.

Learn what students in the University of Alberta’s ART program have been working on with regards to community resilience:

Additional Resources: