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NEWS: Consultation on Alberta water allocation system in 2012

Postmedia News reports, “Alberta’s new environment and water minister says long-awaited public discussions on a system for divvying up southern Alberta’s scarce water resources will be coming in 2012. The newly appointed Diana McQueen, who represents Drayton Valley-Calmar, said public consultations on water — and southern Alberta’s current market for buying and selling limited water licences — is one of the top priorities in the new portfolio. …McQueen said her department would release some educational documents on water next year to prompt discussion on water…”

“At a leader’s dinner in Medicine Hat, Alta., earlier this month, Alison Redford (Alberta’s new premier) suggested she doesn’t like the idea of going further down the path of putting a price on water, saying ‘it’s not the way I think we should go’. However, Redford added she wants an open conversation on the issue where Albertans make the decision as to how to proceed.”

“Those with an interest in Alberta’s water supplies have long been waiting for some kind of clarity. It was more than three years ago when long-serving former environment minister Rob Renner said that public consultations on re-vamping the province’s water allocation system would go ahead.”

“Water issues are especially charged in southern Alberta, where almost every river, lake and stream has been closed to new water licence requests since 2006. Since new licences are no longer readily available from the government, a market has sprung up with 60 licences bought and sold in the last five years.”

“The issue is intensified by debate over Alberta’s century-old ‘first-in-time, first-in-right’ water system, which gives the oldest water licence holders first dibs on supplies. Some of the oldest and most senior licence holders — and therefore those who wield the most water power — are irrigation districts for southern Alberta farmers, and the city of Calgary.”

“The issue of licences is further complicated by the continuing debate over pricing water itself — a dangerous commodification of a resource necessary for life to critics. To others, putting a price on H2O is a powerful incentive for conservation.”

“McQueen promised last week that Alberta’s water would never be sold beyond the province’s boundaries. ‘People want us to be very clear on regards whether we are going to sell our water to other jurisdictions’, the minister said. That issue surfaced this past May when the chairman of Nestle, a major player in the water bottling business, made comments that he was working with the Alberta government on a ‘water exchange’.”

As noted in a Council of Canadians campaign blog on October 21, the Medicine Hat News reported, “Albertans can expect to…speak themselves in the future about an idea to regulate, reallocate or market water leases, Premier Alison Redford told reporters following a party fundraiser in Medicine Hat on (Oct. 20).” Redford said, “Whether we move to market or not… it’s about what we do with respect to water for life and what we do with respect to a price on water. It’s not the way I think we should go, but it has to be part of what our new minister has to do with respect to consulting on this. There have been a lot of random comments on this. It’s something that I’m not supportive of, but it’s got to be a decision that we make as Albertans and quite frankly… I don’t think that we’ve had a full-fledged, open conversation about it.”

To read Council of Canadians commentary on water markets in Alberta, please go to http://canadians.org/markets.