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‘Alternative Water Futures in Alberta’ released

The University of Alberta-based Parkland Institute released today a new report which says that the expansion of water markets to all of Alberta as part of the provincial government’s review of the provincial water allocation system would have adverse effects on the environment, access to water by a range of users in the province, and First Nations’ communities.

“Alternative Water Futures in Alberta,” authored by Trudeau scholar Jeremy Schmidt and funded in part by the Council of Canadians, argues that moving toward a provincial water market, as the government seems intent on doing, is a move that is a dramatic change from Alberta’s water allocation history, which was built on the foundations of community control and distributive justice. Water markets, Schmidt argues, also ignore critical issues such as First Nations’ rights to water – rights which predate the entire history of the allocation itself but have never been recognized – and the needs of ecosystems to have water left in situ.

“Considering the flaws in Alberta’s existing water framework, and looking at the water problems the province is struggling with, it doesn’t make sense to look at it only as an economic issue,” Schmidt says. “Alberta needs a broader, more comprehensive framework that can be flexible in responding to future uncertainties. The one-size-fits-all market approach the government is considering doesn’t fit the bill.”

Drawing from the experiences of other jurisdictions with water markets, including Australia, Chile and Spain, the report suggests two possible alternative systems instead of markets: approaching water as a public trust or viewing it as a common-pool resource. Either of these approaches, the report argues, would provide Alberta with greater flexibility and options in the future as it grapples with future water challenges.

The report comes on the heels of pledges by Alberta’s new Minister of Environment and Water, Diana McQueen, to hold long-promised public consultations on the province’s water allocation review, which was announced in the fall of 2008.

The full report and executive summary can be downloaded at the Parkland Institute website.

Starting tonight in Edmonton, report author Jeremy Schmidt, Council of Canadians Prairie Regional Organizer Scott Harris, and other provincial allies will travel to five communities in Alberta (Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat) on a tour organized by the Our Water Is Not For Sale network, a provincial network of organizations and groups opposed to water markets in the province, of which the Council of Canadians is a founding member. Details of the tour can be found here.