• Working Together
  • To Maintain and Improve
  • Water Quality In The
  • Red Deer River Watershed

What is Project Blue Thumb?

Project Blue Thumb is a social lab aimed at improving and maintaining water quality in the Red Deer River Watershed.

The lab brings together a diverse (and growing) team of people to design, test, and iterate solutions to water quality challenges.

Why A Social Lab?


Water Problems Are Complex

Albertans have become increasingly concerned about the availability and quality of our water. Industrial, agricultural and residential demands for water continue to increase and put pressure on the health and integrity of our rivers and lakes. Recent floods, and the potential long term influence of climate change, have renewed conversations about ecosystem health, cumulative effects, and how to plan for the future of Alberta watersheds.

Watersheds themselves are complex systems, and the people and groups tasked with protecting Alberta’s water resources operate in a diverse structure of multi-stakeholder engagement and activity, environmental monitoring, and the creation of integrated management plans. We need to think differently about our complex world and find new ways to work together.

We Need New Forms of Solutions

As a complex, shared problem, the issue of water quality requires adaptive solutions. The Project Blue Thumb lab team engages in creative, collaborative and systemic processes for problem solving with a focus on building relationships and piloting solutions that lead to tangible change.

Project Blue Thumb fosters new relationships across sector and geographical boundaries, offers a space to rapidly create and test solutions, and challenges dominant mindsets and preconceived ideas of watershed management and what a healthy watershed is.


Beyond Planning: Getting to Action

We cannot plan our way into a healthy and resilient watershed. To operate effectively within complex systems such as the Red Deer River Watershed we need to shift away from fixed, long-term planning to more iterative and adaptive planning based on learning and experimentation.

Since January 2017, we have been practicing this adaptive approach to action and developed six Action Pathways, publicly announced at our Rally for the River event September 7 to 8, 2017.



At Risk

A recent report by the World Wildlife Foundation ranked threats to our watershed as very high.


Cumulative Effects

The watershed faces ongoing issues with contamination of nutrients, pathogens, pesticides, and sediments.


300,000 people, 49,000 sq km

The Red Deer River Watershed is an area larger than Denmark. Across this diverse landscape we need clean water for people, for nature, for agriculture, and for industry.


Climate Change

Climate change is a risk now and in the future as it directly impacts water availability, water quality, and the risk of extreme events.

Transforming Relationships


"Participating in Project Blue Thumb has been a transformational experience. I'm seeing incredible learning from the groups in making progress to find solutions to the problem."

Graham Strickert, University of Saskatchewan

"There is a renewed sense of vitality among people working to improve watershed health. Before Project Blue Thumb, many of the meetings I attended were low energy. Project Blue Thumb has sparked a sense that more is possible, that through collaboration we might actually be able to improve watershed health."

Josée Méthot, Red Deer River Watershed Alliance


"I don't think I would have been able to make such solid, effective and collaborative partnerships if it hadn't been for Project Blue Thumb."

Milana SImikian, Ducks Unlimited

"This is excellent, what we’re creating is a quilt, when that comes together the mosaic will be very worthwhile."

Ray Reckseidler, Village of Delburne


Progress to Date

A diverse (and growing) team

• 30+ leaders
• Different viewpoints and skills from industry, government, and civil society

A platform for collaboration

• Launched April 2015
• Quarterly two-day meetings
• Ongoing prototyping

Constituting the team

Key outcomes

• New knowledge & skills
• Relationships & teams
• Capacities & approaches
• Prototypes & initiatives

Contact Us

Want to learn more about Project Blue Thumb? Contact us