We invite the "movers and shakers" in the water community to share their insights on some of today's most controversial water topics, and encourage our readers to share their thoughts and ideas!
Please note that the views expressed herein are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta WaterPortal.
Republished with permission of the publisher from the April 2013 PEG magazine. You can view original article by clicking here (2.42 MB)
Ten years in, Alberta’s innovation Water for Life strategy has created successful approaches while balancing often competing interests. But will it be enough for the coming decades? Albertans close to the system that links stewards and water councils to province-wide goals weigh in on its successes, its challenges and its shortfalls.
By Bill Corbett
Growing up in southeast Alberta, Lorne Taylor, PHD, would tour the family ranch and see cattle dugouts drying up during periods of drought. At such times, Medicine Hat residents on one side of the street could water their gardens one day, those on the other side the next. If Dr. Taylor’s mother mistakenly watered on the wrong day, there came a reminding knock on the door from a neighbour.
“I grew up with an appreciation for the value of water,” he says. So when Dr. Taylor became Alberta’s environment minister in 2001, crafting a long-term strategy for managing and safeguarding the province’s water resources quickly became a priority. But first he wanted input from ranchers, environmentalists and industry officials — “real people, not just academics. I wanted it driven from the community up, not from the government down. If you’re going to do that properly, if you truly want to listen, it takes time.”
Guided by this stakeholder input, the province’s Water for Life strategy was unveiled in 2003. It was, and still is, intended to achieve three main goals, which are
Dr. Taylor, who retired from elected provincial office in 2004, summarizes the goals this way: they’re about meeting the water needs of people, the environment and the economy.
“Water for Life” was heralded as one of the first strategies of its kind to take a comprehensive, holistic and watershed-based approach to looking at water, to engage citizens and to do all this proactively,” says Andy Ridge, directory of the water policy division of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Most other leaders were in place like Australia or Nevada, with no water. To do this without a water crisis was kind of unique.
Albertans are passionate about water. From majestic mountain waterfalls to astonishing coulees,
The oilsands recovery and upgrading with the current processes are more water and energy intensive; as a result more pollution is created, such as heavier residue, wastewater, solids waste, and air emissions. This has resulted in opportunities for development of new technologies that improve heavy oil recovery, minimize the use of energy and water-based processes and reduce the air emissions with lower cost services. Nanotechnology, which is relatively a new area of science, presents new opportunities for reducing the environmental footprints of oilsands industry. The name nano comes from the size of molecules which is measured in nanometers or one billionth of a meter (1 10-9 meter). Nanoparticles are one of the important examples on nanotechnology applications. Due to their unique properties, nanoparticles can be used to sustain oilsands industry through the development of greener processes with cost-effective approach.
The environmental impacts associated with existing and proposed developments in the Alberta oil sands development region have received unprecedented national, and international, attention. The oil sands represent a strategic resource of importance to Alberta, Canada and indeed to the international energy trading community. The present and future potential magnitude of developments required to extract, upgrade and transport the oil have, for better or worse, vaulted the oil sands region into the realms of international economic, social, environmental and political attention. Accordingly, both the federal and provincial governments have increasingly focussed their attention to creating or expanding environmental monitoring and research programs in the oil sands region of Alberta.
At a time when new approaches to scientific monitoring programs are being reviewed, it may be useful to recall that there is an extensive, and successful, history of scientific and policy co-ordination between Alberta and Canada in regard to oil sands environmental assessment and management programs in the province. Past Federal-Provincial agreements have recognized the overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities and governments responsibly have sought to achieve management and financial efficiencies to harmonize, if not resolve, these overlaps.
Here, past management models and agreements are reviewed, with particular attention paid to the Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Research Program (AOSERP) (1975 to 1980) and the Northern River Basins Study Board (NRBS) (1991 -1996).
Let us be clear. Unless you believe that contracting a flesh-eating disease is a reasonable way to lose weight, it is difficult to interpret what is presently happening to Environment Canada as a mere budget cut. To accept what we have seen happen to this crucial federal government department as mere fiscal belt-tightening is to fall for a public relations cover-up. Canada’s most important environmental institution is not being trimmed. It is not just going through temporary hard times. It is being hollowed out, gutted, dismembered alive. It is being destroyed.
What is happening to Environment Canada should be of great concern to water managers throughout Canada. Because of warming mean temperatures, the hydrology of every region of the country is on the move. The agency responsible for monitoring these changes on a national scale is being utterly incapacitated.
We are about to lose the baseline against which we measure the meaning of such changes in terms of their effect on our economy and our environment. The water management community in this country would do well not to underestimate the relevance of Environment Canada monitoring and research. Despite huge cuts to the department in the 1990s, Environment Canada researchers still managed to produce two of the most influential assessments of the threats to our country’s water quality and availability to appear to date in this young century. These reports remain the foundation of water management planning throughout Canada. Environment Canada’s capacity to serve this country in this and other ways in the future, however, is now is doubt.