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Water market issue heats up in Alberta

The past week has seen a tremendous amount of activity on the issue of water markets in Alberta. The Alberta-wide Our Water is Not For Sale network, of which the Council of Canadians is a founding member and on the steering committee of, has issued a series of action alerts on the issue, and we encourage Council of Canadians members in Alberta to take immediate action on this critical issue. The Council of Canadians believes that the creation of a province-wide deregulated water market in Alberta would be a violation of the human right to water.

On May 5, the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, chaired by floor-crossing former Liberal/Conservative MP David Emerson, released its report and recommended the creation of a new Alberta Water Authority to oversee all water allocation license trades across the province. The purpose of this body would include facilitating the buying and selling of water licenses within a market system. These recommendations further indicate and support the government’s push towards water markets, without addressing the concerns being raised across the province, and still without any public consultation.

Below is an excerpt from Shaping Alberta’s Future: Report of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy. You can read the full report here (the section on water begins on page 87).

Water Allocation

The Alberta Water Authority will oversee an Alberta water allocation exchange. The Authority will maintain information on use and return flow. It will track trades permissible under current policy. It will also advise on policy changes to give holders of water licenses more opportunity to sell, lease or trade some or all of their right to draw water. Such changes will allow licensees holding water allocations they are not currently using or no longer need to lease or sell this surplus to others within the watershed at a price set by market forces of supply-and-demand. Arrangements could range from short-term leases to cover unusual needs during a drought, to long-term leases, to a permanent transfer that would allow a new water user to buy or lease the senior license benefits conferred on the original owner. Trading will be governed by strict rules to ensure that environmental and residential requirements are always met first.

Attaching a value to water will provide all users the incentive to store, recycle and safeguard it. An Irrigation District, for example, could recoup its investment in water-saving practices by leasing the resulting surplus to a growing municipality. The Authority will encourage the growth of activity that delivers the highest possible benefit to the province for the water used.

Then, on May 11 it was reported that Peter Brabeck, the chairman of Nestle, one of the world’s largest private water corporations, has revealed that Nestle has been “actively dealing with the government of Alberta” to encourage it to move towards a “water exchange” in the province. (You can read a previous blog on the issue.)

Two and a half years since announcing it was reviewing Alberta’s water allocation system, the government has failed to consult with Albertans – the owners of the water – to hear their views about how water should be governed in the future, but has apparently made time to listen to what Nestle would like to see in a new allocation system.

Brabeck’s comments were in the media again yesterday, including articles in the Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald and Vancouver Sun. There was also a lively debate in the Alberta Legislature.

During question period, Environment Minister Rob Renner responded to Nestle’s revelation by claiming that “Alberta’s water is not for sale and will not be for sale,” but he was quoted in the Calgary Herald the same day as saying, “I think there will come a day at some point in time where we need to value water. Whether that means the formation of some kind of market remains to be seen.”

He also admitted he “didn’t know” whether his government has been in contact with Nestle. He also defended the review by pointing to “three publications … that have talked about the possibilities and options for proceeding with water allocation into the future.” Given that all three reports are focused on how to expand water markets in the province, there is ample reason for Albertans to be concerned about the government’s direction.

Water markets are a serious and risky path for Alberta to head down. All of the major opposition parties – the NDP, Liberals and Wildrose Alliance – have expressed concerns about water markets. NDP leader Brian Mason said the government is “meeting behind the scenes with one of the largest … corporations in the world to create a water market that will benefit companies like Nestle… and the people of Alberta…will be left in the cold.” The Wildrose Alliance’s Paul Hinman said that “Albertans have spoken loudly about it. It’s divisive on regions, on industry and on people.”

Even Minister Renner admitted there is widespread opposition in Alberta to a move towards water markets, saying during question period that “we’ve heard from literally hundreds and thousands of Albertans who do not share that opinion.”

Take Action!

Let’s make sure he hears from thousands more Albertans!

Phone Renner’s office at (780) 427-2391 or email him at medicine.hat@assembly.ab.ca and tell him that he should be talking to Albertans, not multinational water executives, about the future of Alberta’s water. You can use the points below in communicating to Renner.

We again strongly encourage you to write letters to the editor in response to these articles and the issues they raise. Remember to keep your letter polite and short (250 words or less).

We also ask that you share this message with friends and family and encourage them to sign on to the Our Water Is Not For Sale open letter.

You can use the share feature on our website to use facebook, twitter or email to encourage your friends to sign on. You can also find a list of action items on our website.

Here are links to 3 articles that mention the Nestle interaction:

Edmonton Journal – Alberta’s water not for sale: Renner

Calgary Herald – Alberta denies water for sale

Vancouver Sun – Alberta plays down Nestle executive’s talk of stock market for water

Here are some points you may wish to raise:

  • Point out that it is inappropriate for the government to be meeting with one of the world’s largest private water corporations to develop plans for our water while leaving Albertans out of the process.
  • Express your concern with the push towards water markets evident in the recent Report of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy (link to PDF). We need a system that prioritizes and protects water for its most important uses: human and ecological needs. However, a water market system would prioritize corporate profit.
  • It is unreasonable to allow people or corporations to make enormous profits by selling water licenses because water is a public good and they have historically received those licenses for free.
  • The public deserves a say in changes to something as crucial as our water allocation system. The government should be presenting information on the full range of policy options, not just the one narrow policy option of water markets.
  • For more information and resources to help in writing your letter, visit www.ourwaterisnotforsale.com. Consider, in particular, the Issues & Information section, and the three points that we call for in the open letter.