Alberta Environment, through its water policies and legislation, currently allocates and manages the quality and quantity of water to guarantee safe secure drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and reliable water supplies for the economy in Alberta. The Water Act is used to legislate approvals, licences, provide guidelines and codes of practices with respect to water. Alberta’s Water for Life strategy has been the “roadmap” for the province’s water management since 2003. Some of the strategic plans have already been implemented from this methodical set of guidelines.
The demand for water has changed due to population and economic growth; the supply of water is variable and responsive to changing weather patterns. New values and demands for water are major reasons why the water allocation management system needs to be updated.
According to Sheila Muxlow, Interim Director of the Sierra Club Prairie, Alberta is on the brink of a “serious water crisis with record low water flows in all seven of our river basins.” Also, she claims that “our water worries span the many concerns of toxic contamination and drought, to over allocation and population growth, boiled water advisories and even water you can light on fire.”
In the article Part 2: Share the Water campaign informs the public about water allocation review on echoflam.com, Julia Ko speaks of the upcoming allocation review as an opportunity for Albertans to update the system into a better one. However, one of the major issues is that basic human needs may be compromised and this is worrisome. “Right now the only solutions on the table seem to suggest a water market will happen that may not assure every Albertan will have the right to water for basic human needs or protect water for healthy rivers that provide Albertans with clean water,” explains Ko.
But Cara Tobin, spokesperson for Alberta Environment, sets the record straight especially for those who are concerned that a “deregulated” water market may cause some Albertans to be last in line for good quality water.
“The province is not considering a deregulated water market. The reports submitted by the Alberta Water Council, the Alberta Water Research Institute, and the Minister’s Advisory Group, have recommended to the Government of Alberta that improving on and expanding the current transfer system in the South Saskatchewan River basin to the whole province, could be an effective way of allocating water. A transfer system and a deregulated water market is not the same thing. Any tool introduced to help allocate water in the province will maintain provincial oversight.” In other words, though recommendations are made, the Government of Alberta will make the final decision after consulting with the public.
Alberta’s Water Act prohibits speculation. This means the government will not grant a water licence if there is no proven or demonstrable need for the water. Therefore, any company or any person cannot just purchase a water licence.
Tobin adds, “Southern Alberta already has a transfer system in place. In the South Saskatchewan River basin, you cannot access new water licences. However, with an approved water management plan in place, water transfers, one of the tools in the Water Act, are triggered. This allows for new growth otherwise not accessible in a closed basin. No other basin has an approved water management plan in place,” explains Tobin.
Albertans will have a say in the matter but how this translates into solid evidence is uncertain how it will unfold. “No decisions will be made until Albertans are consulted and have their say. We are not in a crisis; all Albertans continue to have access to water for drinking, cleaning and cooking. The Government of Alberta is taking this action now so the appropriate tools are in place to ensure the continued wise use of water even during times of scarcity. We need to have discussions with Albertans but the details of the consultation have yet to be finalized,” insists Tobin.
An in-depth series of educational presentations on various media platforms, for example, TV, radio, Internet, and print are probable ways in which Albertans can gain access to important information about water that has recently come under review. Presently, most of the information can be found on Alberta Environment’s website (environment.alberta.ca).
Citizens of Alberta including the Assembly of First Nations (Treaties 6, 7 and 8) should be fully engaged in open dialogue so that the issue is transparent and everyone who has a right to water knows what impending changes are at stake before the law is made permanent.
The Alberta Water Council confirmed that the strategic goals set out in the Water for Life mandate are good except that success “will depend on focus, innovation, balanced social values and a growing appreciation of the value of water as a scarce resource.” If Alberta can maintain this balance, then we will navigate through the process of water allocation management.
For more detailed information on Alberta’s Allocation Management System Review see the links below. Also, there will be an in-depth look at the Water for Life strategies in an upcoming article.
PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4 PART 5 PART 6
Our Water is Not for Sale
Violation of First Treaty Rights with Alberta’s new water law
Water Market: The Alberta government will face a battle
Government of Alberta Initiatives
Water for Life
Water for Life, A Renewal
Water Allocation Management
Alberta’s Allocation Management System Review
Alberta Water Research Institute
Water Management in Alberta