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Council challenges water markets in Alberta

Fast Forward Weekly reports that, “the provincial government (in Alberta) is poised to develop a full-fledged water market — the first of its kind in Canada — making water rights easier to buy and sell, sparking a politically charged debate on whether or not water should be a commodity. The government says everything is on the table as it reviews its century-old water licensing system, but those familiar with the discussions say the province is heading towards an expanded, more fully developed market.”

“Alberta already has a small water market that sprung up in 2006, when the provincial government, realizing it had over-allocated water, closed southern Alberta river basins to new licences. The move forced growing municipalities with junior licences to look to irrigators and other senior licensees for water, but both buyers and sellers say the transfer process is laborious and needs streamlining.”

“The Council of Canadians plans to oppose an expanded Alberta water market. ‘The water market system is absolutely not the solution,’ says Meera Karunananthan, the group’s national water campaigner. ‘We consider water to be a human right. When you allocate according to the laws of the market, then you see water going to those who can pay the most. So it goes to the highest bidder.’ Karunananthan says the government should instead create a hierarchy of water use, allocating to those who need it most — including the environment.”

“(Former Alberta environment minister Lorne Taylor, who chairs the Alberta Water Research Institute) dismisses the Council of Canadians’ concerns about the market as ‘scare tactics’ intended to raise money for the organization.”

“The Water Research Institute is set to submit its report to the government this fall, and the Alberta Water Council is also submitting recommendations on the allocation and transfer system. As well, earlier this year the government created a panel headed by University of Alberta law dean David Percy to advise the government on the water licensing system. …The government won’t reveal who’s on the advisory panel, citing privacy concerns. …The government eventually plans to hold a public consultation on the issue, but Alberta Environment hasn’t yet set a date.”

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To read the April 24 Council of Canadians campaign blog on water markets, please go to