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Albertans quiet on water talk

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.

Read the article at the Lethbridge Herald.

Majority of Albertans against putting water rights on the market: poll


EDMONTON – Most Albertans believe the province should put river health first when it comes to handing out water rights, and human consumption should take priority over businesses during a drought, according to a new poll released Thursday.

Only 22 per cent said they would support a market-based system to allocate water rights.

A lobby group called Our Water is Not for Sale sponsored the phone survey, which followed up on Alberta’s public consultation on water this spring. The group said Alberta is considering a market-based approach to allocating water among users in Alberta and argues that approach won’t value human and ecological needs the way Albertans want.

“We think these results clearly indicate Albertans don’t support a move to an expanded water market, and that they’re really strongly opposed to water licence holders making a profit off something they’ve been given historically for free,” said Scott Harris, regional organizer for the Council of Canadians, one of the lobby group partners.

“Albertans want the government to implement a public water management system that prioritizes human needs.”

Most water basins in the drier southern half of the province have been closed to new allocations since 2006. Shortly after, the CrossIron Mills mall north of Calgary paid $15 million to a nearby irrigation district to get access to water the farmers weren’t using.

At about the same time, the provincial government started looking at options for an expanded water market and published three reports looking at those options in 2009.

This spring it ran a provincewide public consultation looking at ways to better “share” water, among other topics. Before the water consultation, the province said it would not consider selling water to other jurisdictions or changing the “first in time, first in right” principal that currently governs which water licences are honoured first in a drought, said Jessica Potter, spokeswoman for Alberta Environment.

In the phone survey, 83 per cent of respondents said they either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “We need to have a water allocation system that prioritizes the health of rivers based on scientific requirements.”

Seventy-four per cent said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “municipalities should be given priority access to water for human needs, even if this means that some businesses like the energy industry cannot access all of the water they need in a time of drought.”

Twenty-two per cent said they would support a system to let the market decide who gets water, and only nine per cent said farmers or businesses should be allowed to sell the unused parts of their water licences for profit, even if they originally got the licence for free. Eighty-five per cent said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement.

Harris said if businesses and farmers are allowed to sell unused portions of their water licences it would quickly drive up water use in some of the driest areas of the province.

Ricardo Acuna, executive director of the Parkland Institute, said the government needs to establish scientifically supported baselines for each river so that businesses are not allowed to withdraw any water when levels get too low. This would ensure fish habitat and the river ecosystems are protected.

Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen was not available for comment Thursday.

The phone survey run by Environics reached 831 adult Albertans between June 14 and 22. With that sample size, it’s considered accurate within 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.



Put people before industry, Albertans say of water use


CALGARY — A new poll suggest most Albertans want the province to protect the health of rivers and ensure water is used for people before industry.

The survey, released Thursday by a coalition of groups concerned about water in the province, was conducted between June 14 and June 20 to determine the level of support for Alberta’s water talks held earlier this spring.

The provincewide consultations, which cost $1 million, were being used to determine how water is used in Alberta for the next 50 years.

Opinions gathered at the public forums in 20 towns and cities are being used to design a new water strategy.

But the poll shows that 80 per cent of Albertans weren’t even aware of the consultations.

Eighty-three per cent of those surveyed said the province needs to have a water allocation system that prioritizes the health of rivers based on scientific requirements.

“Albertans would rather have a system based on a public interests approach that prioritizes certain uses and makes sure that ecosystem health is a priority, that human needs are given priority,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta.

There were also concerns that water could be sold under the revised plan.

Officials with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development emphasized there’s no plan to sell Alberta’s water.

“We want to emphasize that water is not for sale to other jurisdictions and that was made very clear from the start of the water conversations,” Wayne Wood, press secretary to Minister Diana McQueen, said in an emailed response to the Herald’s query.

He didn’t address whether water would be able to be sold as part of an existing water licence, but he noted it’s too early to judge the outcome of the talks.

“No policy decisions have yet been made as a result of the conversations and no final decisions have yet been made,” Wood said.

The poll, which is available in full at ourwaterisnotforsale.com, was conducted by Environics Research Group. It surveyed 831 Albertans and is considered accurate plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


Media Release: Poll Reveals Majority of Albertans Reject Government Water Plans

Media Release

July 11, 2013

Poll Reveals Majority of Albertans Reject Government Water Plans

80% of Albertans Unaware of Province’s Consultation on Water

The Our Water is Not for Sale network of organizations released a poll today that shows the vast majority of Albertans are opposed to a number of key policy directions that the Alberta government is considering, now that they have concluded their “water conversations.”

“While the government spent a million dollars to go to over 20 cities and towns and talked with only 1000 people, our poll shows that 80% of Albertans were not aware that the consultations even took place”, says Marle Roberts, President of CUPE Alberta. “We know that many industry groups and water experts participated in the process, but the government can’t go around saying they heard support for their water policy agenda when so few Albertans were not even aware this water consultation was happening.”

“The fact that 83% of Albertans agree that ‘We need to have a water allocation system that prioritizes the health of rivers based on scientific requirements’ sends a clear message to the government that our first priority should be getting the science right on ecosystem health,” says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. “As population and economic growth increase demand for water and supply is reduced by climate change, we need far stricter regulations and scientific evidence to protect the health of our rivers.”

The poll shows 74% of Albertans agree that “Municipalities should be given priority access to water for human needs, even if this means that some businesses like the energy industry cannot access all of the water they need in times of drought.”

“This shows that Albertans fundamentally understand what’s at stake here,” says Ricardo Acuña, executive director of the Parkland Institute. “Nobody is saying that industry should not have access to water, but rather that provincial policy needs to ensure that water for human needs is guaranteed and prioritized at all times under all conditions.”

The poll showed only 32% of Albertans agreed that “Water licenses for First Nations communities should be considered first in time, no matter when they received a water license from the government.”

“While we are disappointed in Albertans’ responses to this survey question, we are not necessarily surprised,” said Joseph Jobin, Chief Operating Officer for Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta. “We believe this speaks more to the lack of consultation by the Alberta government on this particular issue and inadequate education that Albertans have on Treaty No. 8 and Treaty Rights in general.”

The poll also clearly shows a majority of Albertans are opposed to water markets. 63% of Albertans polled disagree that “The government should stop issuing licenses and set up a system that lets the market decides who gets access to allocations of water.” Even stronger, 85% of Albertans polled disagree that “If a business, farmer or municipality is not using all of their water license they should be allowed to sell it to any other user for a profit, even if they got that license for free.”

“The poll makes it clear that Albertans are overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of leaving critical decisions about who gets water up to a water market,” says Scott Harris, Prairies & NWT Organizer with the Council of Canadians. “And there is almost no support whatsoever in the province for allowing those with water licenses to make windfall profits off of their existing water licences. It should be abundantly clear to the provincial government that going further down the road to a water market is not what Albertans want.”

The telephone survey of 831 adult Albertans was conducted by Environics Research Group from June 14 – 22, 2013. The poll is considered accurate plus or minus 3.4%, 19 times out of 20.

To view the full detailed poll data files, click here…



Coverage of INM march against water markets

Idle No More march pushes need for water protection in Alberta


EDMONTON – The Idle No More movement took to the streets on Friday to voice the need to protect Alberta’s water supply just in time for the Progressive Conservatives’ policy convention this weekend.

A group of about 75 people met at Canada Place at around 11 a.m. and the crowd swelled to about 150 by the time they reached the legislature where a number of speakers addressed the crowd.

Drummers led the way west along Jasper Avenue and protesters followed behind chanting and carrying signs with messages saying water is not for sale and no one owns the water. A couple of cars honked in solidarity, including a man driving a Culligan water truck, and a few onlookers even joined in the march. The group made a point of pausing outside the Enbridge building. Other passersby held up their cellphones to capture the action on camera.


Over the past few months, the province held 30 water consultation sessions, 10 of which were specifically for First Nations and Métis people, said Environment Minister Diana McQueen. In total, she heard from 1,000 Albertans on four main topics: healthy lakes, the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, efficient water management — an issue that included debate about water licences and markets — and municipal issues, including waste water.

Nevertheless, many protesters said they feel as though they were not properly consulted. They’re worried about what the government is doing behind closed doors and how it will impact First Nations people.

“They were not forthcoming at all about what their plans are,” said Mary Richardson, who attended one of the consultations and Friday’s march.

One of the speakers, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a climate energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said under treaty, water rights are guaranteed to First Nations people. Yet in her community in Peace River, B.C. she said her family doesn’t even have running water.

“Here in Alberta it’s very concerning because what we’re seeing is a potential privatization of our water and the selling off of senior water licences to the oil and gas industry from farmers who’ve had these licences for a number of years,” she said.

While many also carried signs and expressed concern that the government wants to put Alberta’s water up for sale, McQueen refuted that.

“Our water is not for sale and will never be for sale to other jurisdictions now or in the future,” she said in an interview. “We do have water licences, that’s how we do allocations, but certainly they are not for sale, we do not sell water in the province.”

However she said municipalities may sell water to residents and to industry or businesses.

“People may apply for a water licence and may use that water and sell it for industry or for commercial purposes, but the province does not sell water to other jurisdictions,” she said.

She reiterated that water is important to everyone and the point of consulting the public was to hear their views before any policy is developed.


Read the Article at The Edmonton Journal

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