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Council critiques Alberta water market plans

The Canadian Press reports today that, “Environmental groups say they are worried that Alberta may allow more of its dwindling fresh water supply to be sold for profit. …The tone of Alberta’s water market reports has caught the ear of the Council of Canadians, which is worried that other provinces could follow the for-profit example. The organization is calling for a national policy that recognizes water as a human right and a public trust. ‘This highlights the lack of federal legislative safeguards in Canada allowing provinces to sell off water resources,’ Meera Karunananthan, a council spokesman, said in a release. ‘A water market in Alberta sets a dangerous trend with regards to the management of water resources in Canada.'”

Yesterday, the Edmonton Journal reported that, “Maude Barlow, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, said Alberta could be about to make a big mistake. ‘It looks like the province is going to be the first in Canada to move to a market-based solution for water.’ Barlow, who (was) also senior adviser on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly, said that’s what has happened in Chile, Spain, Australia, and California. ‘It’s a big concern because the public loses control of something essential for life and it becomes a market commodity.’ …Barlow said Alberta is taking a big step toward a privatized market model, so water will be on sale in the open market, like running shoes or Coca-Cola. But Alberta is the province with the least fresh water in Canada and with the most critical supply issues looming in the future, she said. ‘We need to have such a strong model of conservation and a notion of equity in access to it. And instead Alberta is moving to a (system of) leave a little bit in the ground, we’ll have that base amount, and then everything else is a free-for-all put out to the market. People, in 25 years will look back and, if this is allowed to happen, will say, This was such a mistake.’”

The Medicine Hat News also reported that, “The province will engage the general public in Alberta-wide public meetings on the long-term sustainability of provincial water resources next summer, following recent consultations from experts. But that input was criticized this week by the Council of Canadians, which issued a press release warning that the implementation of the recommendations would open the door to full private markets, which the council says have wreaked havoc on the environment in countries like Australia and Chile.

‘Letting the market decide who will have access to water violates the public trust doctrine, a principle of common law which regards water as belonging equally to all peoples and managed by governments on their behalf,’ said Maude Barlow, the Council of Canadians national chairperson.”

The Canadian Press report is at http://www.metronews.ca/vancouver/live/article/379519–environmental-groups-say-alberta-may-allow-fresh-water-sales-to-highest-bidder. The Edmonton Journal article is at http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Province+warned+against+water+sale/2259625/story.html. And the Medicine Hat News report is at http://www.medicinehatnews.com/content/view/160129/65/.

Our media release on this is at http://canadians.org/media/water/2009/23-Nov-09.html.