Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 1633–1643 | Cite as

Reviewing reservoir operations in the North American West: an opportunity for adaptation

  • Reed D. BensonEmail author
Original Article


Storage reservoirs are an important part of the water infrastructure in both the USA and Canada. Their operations are important not only for water supply but also for downstream aquatic and riparian ecosystems. Public agencies operate some of the most important water supply reservoirs in both nations: the federal Bureau of Reclamation in the western USA and the provincial Alberta Environment and Parks in Canada’s South Saskatchewan River Basin. This paper examines legal and policy issues affecting potential changes in reservoir operations as an adaptation strategy in the western USA and southern Alberta and considers the two agencies’ policies and practices on reviewing dam operations. Although both agencies appear to recognize the potential value of reviewing and revising their reservoir operating plans, neither makes a practice of doing so. Thus, there is no program to review the operations of water supply projects; by contrast, hydropower project operations have been reviewed and revised in both nations. The two agencies have similar approaches even though federal laws and institutions are important for reservoir operations in the USA, but have little influence in Alberta. Whether federal or provincial, these agencies have operated their projects primarily to benefit local interests.


Reservoir operations Water management Environmental flows Climate adaptation Alberta United States 



The author conducted research for this article during his service as Visiting Research Chair in Water and the Environment at the University of Lethbridge, in Lethbridge, AB, Canada. This position was funded through the Fulbright Scholars Program, and Professor Benson thanks Fulbright Canada and the University of Lethbridge for their support of his work in Alberta. He also thanks Stewart Rood and David Hill (both of the University of Lethbridge), David Percy (University of Alberta), and the natural resources law faculty at the University of Calgary (especially Nigel Bankes, Allan Ingleson, Arlene Kwasniak, Alistair Lucas, and Martin Olszynski) for all their invaluable assistance. Professor Benson also extends his most sincere thanks to all the Alberta water professionals and US federal officials who graciously shared their time, expertise, and insights with him.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New Mexico School of LawAlbuquerqueUSA

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