The Bog

The Bog is where thoughts, opinions, discussion pieces, and action converge. Influential thinkers from the water community are invited to share their insights on current or controversial water topics. Please note that the views expressed herein are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta WaterPortal.

Water Use by Alberta’s Upstream Oil and Gas Industry

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is the voice of the upstream oil and natural gas industry in Canada. CAPP represents 140 member companies who explore for, develop and produce more than 95 per cent of Canada's natural gas, crude oil, oil sands and elemental sulphur.

Water is an integral part of oil and gas production around the world, and as Canada’s oil and gas industry grows, so does the demand on Canadian water resources. The challenge facing the industry is to reduce fresh water use while continuing to develop oil and gas reserves.

Putting Oil and Gas Industry Use in Context
Canada’s oil and gas industry is maturing, with more production coming from older oil fields and unconventional sources such as oil sands. These petroleum resources often require water to facilitate production, and today water is primarily used for the recovery of bitumen from oil sands (mining and in situ) and for enhanced recovery from mature conventional oil fields. In Alberta, the oil and gas industry’s allocation of total licenced water in the province is 7.2%, and industry uses approximately one-third of that allocation.

First Nations Water

Opinion by Juli Abouchar, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP

Across the country year after year, a disproportionate number of First Nations communities have Boil Water Advisories (BWA). The number fluctuates, but as of June 13, 2008, ninety five First Nations communities across Canada were under a BWA. Many of these communities have been on BWAs for years, although BWAs are meant to be temporary measures. Most BWAs are in communities in Ontario and British Columbia, but Alberta has had its share, with 10 Alberta reserves experiencing boil water advisories.

Municipal and private water systems are subject to mandatory high standards that larger municipalities can keep up with. Many smaller and remote municipalities cannot manage the technical and organisational challenges of the regulations.

The problem is exacerbated for First Nations' water systems which are not regulated. This regulatory gap was identified in 2005 by the Auditor General. In November 2006, the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations released its report to the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations. The report identified the need for a regulatory framework together with adequate investment in human and physical assets, and proposed regulatory options.

In April of this year, the federal government announced that it would spend $330 million over the next two years on a First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan, including the development of clear standards and a legislative framework.

What is needed to make this legislative framework effective?

A Growing Debate – The Value of Water

Opinion by Bill Berzins, President of Fossil Water

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Thomas Fuller could very well have been warning Albertans when he coined this popular phrase in 1732. Indeed, as Alberta’s rapid pace of development places new demands on an increasingly scarce resource, the debate is growing.Alberta’s water market was enabled in the 1999 Water Act and further shaped by the 2006 Water Management Plan for the South Saskatchewan River Basin. The Plan, which placed a moratorium on new allocations of surface water within the Bow and Oldman River Basins, has been a catalyst for an emerging market for water entitlements. Recent applications for a change in purpose by the Western and Eastern Irrigation Districts have attracted the attention of ecological groups concerned that the needs of aquatic ecosystems will suffer as market forces drive up the price of water.

Can't Get No Respect

Opinion by Michal C. Moore

Water. We can't live without it, yet we waste it with abandon, we mis-price it, inefficiently allocate it, hoard it, corrupt it and refuse to share, just in case we might lose the historic right we have to it. In one of many paradoxical observations, most of the world is covered with water, but only a small fraction of that is useable for agriculture, industry and survival.

The development of the modern West has always reflected access to two key commodities: energy and water. In the case of large hydroelectric systems, the two commodities are synonymous. Vast, expensive projects such as the Federal Water Project in California's central valley with 500 miles of canals and 20 reservoirs, attendant pumping stations, storage facilities and associated electric turbines, the Bonneville Power Administration system on the Columbia River, or the extensive hydro facilities in British Columbia: all these highlight the cost of acquiring and using a "free" fuel like water.

The fact is, water is not a free good at all, yet it is abused as if it was.

Land-Use Planning for Watershed Health: Can Alberta’s Land-Use Framework Help?

Managing the cumulative effects of land-use change is necessary for keeping our watersheds healthy. The problem is that there are few incentives for land-use decision makers to address cumulative effects in land-use planning at a regional or watershed scale (i.e., beyond municipal boundaries). Furthermore, there is no legislation in Alberta that mandates the use of cumulative effects based thresholds or limits in land-use planning. But the province’s Land-use Framework (LUF) could help.

Under the LUF land use ‘thresholds’ could be set based on the capacity of watersheds to naturally provide ecological goods and services such as drinking water sources, flood mitigation, and groundwater recharge. In other words, planning for land-use change that fits within the ecological capacity of a watershed. This type of threshold based approach to land-use planning could become a powerful tool for protecting watershed health.

Extensive removal of topsoil and vegetation, disruption or destruction of natural drainage channels, and replacement of pervious surfaces (grass, trees) with impervious surfaces (concrete, asphalt, roofs) can impact the natural mechanisms within a watershed that provide invaluable goods and services. Over time, the cumulative effects of land-use change can push these natural mechanisms beyond their carrying capacity reducing watershed health.

Traditional, man-made or ‘pipes and pumps’ infrastructure has been the primary mechanism for water and wastewater treatment and management. While this type of infrastructure is vital for managing our water supplies and keeping pollutants out of our waterways, it is extremely expensive.

Canada’s municipal infrastructure deficit is $123 billion. The current deficit related to water supply, wastewater and stormwater systems stands at $31 billion for the existing capital stock, while new needs are estimated at $56.6 billion.