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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…



Water Groups Slam Government Water Conversation Survey

*This media release is a response from OWINFS member groups, and other groups working on water in Alberta.*

Media Release
February 13, 2013

The Alberta government’s Water Conversation survey of just 15 questions that was launched this week, fails to give Albertans the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the direction of water policy in the province, say groups working on provincial water issues.

“Albertans who have waited for years for promised consultations on the future of water in Alberta are going to be extremely frustrated when they see what the government has come up with,” says Scott Harris, Prairies Regional Organizer with the Council of Canadians. “Fifteen online questions, many of which bundle a range of policy options into ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ options and are so vague as to be almost meaningless, is hardly the broad and meaningful consultations Albertans deserve.”

“This ridiculous survey will only serve to muddy the waters,” says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. “If the government really wants to give Albertans the opportunity to participate in a conversation about water, it has to be clear about what it’s talking about. For example, when it asks if people support ‘making it easier to share water with other users,’ is the government talking about expanding and deregulating a water market? If so, and if they explained the implications of this, I doubt that that this is the direction most Albertans would want to go.”

“The Athabasca Chipewyan have been actively campaigning for stronger water policies and regulations for years,” says Eriel Deranger Tar Sands Communication Coordinator, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “In 2010, ACFN published the report ‘As Long as the River Flows’ to highlight the need to adequately identify and address the need for First Nation and Aboriginal base flow and impacts to treaty rights. The new water conversations emerging in the province have done little to address the unique rights of First Nations, and it would appear that governments are sidestepping their fiduciary obligations to uphold treaty and aboriginal rights.”

“The news release for the Water Conversation says that First Nations and Métis are being engaged on water issues through separate processes, but if there is a separate process, it hasn’t been made public yet,” says Jesse Cardinal, of the Keepers of the Athabasca. “Both processes are important for the future of water in the province, and the information about both should be readily available to everyone, otherwise the government will miss input from people who are very connected to water, input that could benefit us all. There are serious issues that are not being addressed in this process, including potential groundwater contamination from in situ mining operations and the slow progress the province is making in establishing limits on water extraction during periods of low flow in the river.”

“While it is commendable that the Government of Alberta has initiated this conversation it is concerning that the scope of the conversation has been narrowed in a way that will prevent any real discussion of the big-picture issues we face, including the problem of over-allocation of water in much of southern Alberta and the lack of mechanisms to return water to rivers,” says Bill Donahue, Director (Science and Policy) with the Water Matters Society of Alberta. “There also is no acknowledgement of the disconnection between science and water policy and management. We have to stop pretending that we’ve been doing a good job of managing water and achieving the Water For Life Goals, because we haven’t. My fear is that, by not tackling these issues, this conversation is going to distract Albertans from some of the biggest problems we face.”


Media contacts

  • Scott Harris, Council of Canadians
  • Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Public Interest Alberta
  • Eriel Deranger, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
  • Jesse Cardinal, Keepers of the Athabasca
  • Bill Donahue, Water Matters Society of Alberta

Leaked documents reveal the ‘WC’ smells funny

Media Release
January 11, 2013

‘Water Conversation’ little more than government PR effort

EDMONTON – Leaked Alberta government documents released today by the Our Water Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) Network outlining plans for a million-dollar “Water Conversation (WC)” with Albertans indicate that long-awaited public consultations about Alberta’s water allocation system will amount to little more than a public relations effort.

“This clearly isn’t the broad and meaningful consultation on the future of the province’s water that Albertans have been waiting for since the fall of 2008,” says Scott Harris, Prairies Regional Organizer with the Council of Canadians, a member group of the OWINFS network. “It seems as though this process is about putting a tick in the box to say that Albertans have been consulted, without allowing them to actually address the issues or influence policy.”

The documents detail that the “Water Conversation” – which in addition to water management will also cover the issues of hydraulic fracturing, drinking water and wastewater, and healthy lakes – will involve stops in 20 municipalities and an online component. The outline of the public events shows that in each of the three-hour meetings, the public will have just 30 minutes of discussion, at one of five tables, to address these complex issues.

“This is the public’s one chance to have a say in the future of water in Alberta, but it’s not clear that the government cares what they have to say,” says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, another member organization of the OWINFS network. “On the one hand, the documents say that this conversation will ‘position government to develop, and be positioned to make decisions on policy’ – possibly by the end of the year – but on the other hand they state that ‘this is not a process to consult on policy.’ If this process doesn’t actually allow citizens to influence government policy, then this WC is just flushing money down the drain.”

“Worse yet, the government has already predetermined the outcome,” adds Moore-Kilgannon, “saying in its ‘High-Level Solution Statement’ that citizens participating in the conversations will ‘appreciate that there is no water crisis today’ but that ‘some changes may be required.’”

The documents also reveal that controversial plans to introduce a province-wide market for water licenses are apparently still on the table. An earlier document, attached in the appendix, reveals that a “move to formal water pricing” was at that time mentioned as being out of the scope of discussion, but later documents remove this and replace it with “water for sale to the US.”

“Sale of water to the US is a red herring. Minister McQueen is the only person who has raised it as an issue in the allocation review and as part of new water legislation,” says Harris. “What Albertans deserve to know is if the government is still planning on introducing a province-wide water market. We deserve a meaningful process where concerns about such a plan will actually result in a water policy we can support.”



View and download the documents here.

Backgrounder, produced by Our Water Is Not For Sale.