Caroline Zentner, lethbridge herald, July 15, 2013.
The province recently held consultations about Alberta’s water allocation system but it seems most Albertans didn’t know it.
A poll conducted by a coalition of organizations, called the “Our Water is Not for Sale Network,” showed eight in 10 Albertans were unaware that these water conversations were being held. The province spent $1 million to speak to 1,000 Albertans in 22 cities and towns.
“Eighty per cent of Albertans were completely unaware that the consultations even took place,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, a member of the Our Water is Not for Sale group.
The telephone survey of 831 Albertans was conducted by Environics Research Group from June 14 to 22. The poll is considered to be accurate by plus or minus 3.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Other findings showed an even larger majority of Albertans agreed that a water allocation system needs to prioritize the health of rivers based on scientific requirements. A further 74 per cent of Albertans agreed that municipalities should be given priority access to water for human needs, even if it means some industries can’t get all the water they need in times of drought.
When it came to the idea of water markets, 63 per cent opposed the idea of letting the market decide who gets access to water allocations. And 85 per cent of Albertans said existing businesses, farmers or municipalities that don’t use all of their water licence should not be allowed to sell the portion they’re not using.
“What we’re advocating for is a system that actually prioritizes ecosystem health along with human needs,’ Moore-Kilgannon said.
With the province exploring the idea of deregulating and expanding the water market, organizations in the Our Water is Not for Sale want to make sure all Albertans know what the implications of a water market are.
“What the government is proposing is a market-based system where they don’t differentiate between the type of use of water and they don’t prioritize farmers or municipalities or ecosystem health,” Moore-Kilgannon said.
Such a system will simply put the control of access to water in the hands of those who are rich.
“Our contention is that they need to do scientific analysis of ecosytem health because no one wants our rivers to die ecologically and that we need to be looking at a system that prioritizes different types of water use,” he said.
Once access to water, not the water itself, becomes a commodity then it’s subject to international trade agreement regulations and the sale of water licences can’t be restricted to only Alberta companies.
“The ownership of water licences will, in essence, control who has access to water in the future,” he said.
The government will compile its results from the water conversations by the end of August and policy changes are expected in the fall, Moore-Kilgannon said.
The Our Water is Not for Sale network is urging people to educate themselves about water and to contact their MLAs about their concerns. People can also get involved by signing up through the group’s website at ourwaterisnotforsale.com.
“If the whole thing is based on who has the deepest pockets and doesn’t consider the actual end use of water as being different then we have a very serious problem,” he said.