Alberta government wants your say on water

Four groups Opinions sought on lakes, drinking water and water treatment, water management and fracking

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The Alberta government wants your opinions on water. It’s preparing a questionnaire, holding meetings across the province and putting a booklet and questionnaire on the Internet to give Albertans a chance to have their say on water issues.

Alberta Environment says it is open to looking into any issue people want to bring forward, but it’s divided the main issues into four groups: lakes, drinking water and water treatment, water management and fracking. The government sees several possible options and it’s looking for input on each.

Shannon Frank, executive director of the Oldman Water Council (OWC), says she hopes everyone has a chance to have a say in the process. “We have faith that the government is open-minded and truly looking for policy direction,” she said.

“The government has some ideas it wants to bring in and it wants to test the reaction.”

The OWC takes a holistic approach finding balance among competing interests from camping, grazing, and logging in headwaters areas to farming and urban issues on the prairie.

Ron McMullin, executive director of Alberta Irrigation Projects Association, said he also supports the process. He sees an opportunity for the irrigation industry to tell people the good it does and also give it a firm foundation for future success. “The government has been promising us something like this for quite a long time,” he says. “It’s always positive when people get together to understand and appreciate other’s views. And, for any business, uncertainty is the worst possible situation. We need clarification to manage and invest, and that means getting together to clarify rules and guidelines.”

Four issues

On fracking, the most controversial issue, the government plans more monitoring, more transparency and asks for suggestions that would enable continued fracking and safeguard our water supplies. Policies that address the storage or disposal of contaminated water recovered from fracking are needed.

Drinking water and waste water treatment issues include high and increasing costs and the lack of trained and knowledgeable people to run the systems. The government is looking for input on the financing of water systems and pipelines to communities around major centres.

Alberta Environment suggests a lake management framework might provide transparent funding and guidelines for management for healthy lakes would be consistent across the province. The province also wants input on raising the standards for septic systems and increased land use regulation.

On water management, the province suggests a variation of the water-allocation discussions proposed a few years ago. Protection of water needed to meet the ecological needs of major rivers, as has been done for the South Saskatchewan River Basin is suggested. The province acknowledges transboundary agreements and that water transfers between major river drainages would require an act of the legislature.

No changes to FITFIR (first-in-time, first-in-right) licence rights are proposed, but the need for conservation incentives and productive use of limited water resources is among the talking points.

Other points for discussion are simpler transfers of water-licence rights and using regional plans to tailor water management to each region’s needs.

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