WIT Press

Water Managers’ Perspectives On Reservoir Operations For Sustainable Irrigation In Alberta


Free (open access)





Page Range

161 - 172




364 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


M.-È. Jean, E. G. R. Davies


Sustainable reservoir management is essential to ensure the productivity of agriculture and to adapt to a changing climate. Despite progress in reservoir modelling and management with the improvement of computer capabilities and the development of optimization methods, managers and decision-makers still face the challenge of applying the output of more-theoretical optimization models to real-world reservoir operations. This research analyzes reservoir managers’ perspectives in Alberta’s heavily-allocated South Saskatchewan River basin, in order to improve understanding of the behaviour of reservoir operators under different climatic and hydrological conditions. The method involves in-person interviews with twelve water managers of Southern Alberta’s irrigation districts. The data collected suggest that seniority-based allocation priorities are generally not strictly applied. Instead, cooperation between districts and between irrigators within a district indicates that water allocations are driven principally by the infrastructure capacity on a river-basin-scale basis. Of additional importance is recognition of the “day-by-day” approach adopted by all water managers interviewed who will “never sacrifice today for tomorrow”. Moreover, water managers do not apply annual or multi-year water deficit-distribution strategies, but instead impose variable water rationing for all irrigators at the beginning of a growing season. The contribution of this research is to provide real-world data and a better understanding of water managers’ perspectives that may lead to more valuable outcomes from modelling studies, and results that may be more readily adopted by water managers.


irrigation, operators’ decision-making, optimization models, reservoir operations, stakeholder interviews