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Tag: Rebecca Schulz

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Alberta’s water crisis is just beginning

In the past week, Albertans have been confronted with a triple whammy of water crises.

On Feb. 20, the Government of Alberta declared the start of wildfire season, 10 days earlier than the usual March 1 start due to this season’s warm temperatures, which have been compounded by the fact that large parts of Alberta are under severe or extreme drought.

On Feb. 23, the Crowsnest River in southern Alberta was reported to have run dry upstream of Cowley. (The claim was later disputed, with the halted water flow being blamed on ice buildup.) The Crowsnest River is a tributary to the Old Man, which has seen record-low river levels and extremely low reservoir levels this year.

While many Albertans were astonished by these two announcements, the Alberta Energy Regulator also announced in an internal letter that it had accepted initial applications and is open to public hearings for the controversial Grassy Mountain coal mine on the Eastern Slopes, a project which has already been turned down twice. An application for a water diversion licence has been submitted to AER.

What does the potential coal mine have to do with water? Coal mines use 250 litres of fresh water and about 750 litres of recycled water per tonne of coal produced. According to estimates, Grassy Mountain will divert 1.125 billion litres of fresh water per year from the Old Man watershed.

Though they appeared as separate stories, this past week’s news demonstrates the interrelatedness of our crises. Alberta is experiencing a critical water shortage, and action is needed immediately.

 

 

We need a new holistic approach to water in this province that looks at the cumulative impacts and interconnections between water usage and water shortage. This holistic approach also needs to consider the role of climate change in driving both increased water usage and drought.

The Government of Alberta has taken some steps to tackling our water crisis by creating a new drought advisory committee earlier this month. This committee, however, poorly represents the diversity of stakeholders and communities impacted by drought. Specifically, it does not include the communities most impacted. Alarmingly, this committee does not include water and/or drought researchers. 

The lack of scientists is troubling but not surprising considering the GOA’s acceptance of recent recommendations to consider “non-scientific evidence during an emergency.” Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz has failed to mention the impact of climate change on Alberta’s long-term droughts. Instead she blamed El Niño, a periodic system associated with warm dry weather, even while a group of scientists in her very department published research warning of extreme drought in Alberta due to global warming.

The GOA has also started, as of Feb. 1, unprecedented negotiations with Alberta’s current water licence holders, who operate under a “first in time, first in right” system. But all negotiations are occurring behind closed doors, with no indication of whether changes in water licensing are forthcoming.

Alberta needs an independent water board that has teeth and the ability to make policy, licensing and emergency decisions, apart from both the GOA and AER. An independent water board would guarantee both transparency and the more substantial inclusion of stakeholders, communities and experts than we see currently.

 

 

An independent water board could not only manage the province’s water licenses and complex water license transfer system, but also include Indigenous communities, industry, agriculture, tourism, scientists, wildfire specialists, as well as a limited number of municipal and provincial government members. 

There is already a precedent for independent water boards in Canada, in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, where water co-governance is mandated by modern treaties. While these systems too have limitations, they could be built and improved upon.

The GOA already greatly benefits from its partnership with the Alberta Water Council, Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils and Watershed Stewardship Groups, according to the GOA’s Water for Life Strategy. Why not provide these collaborators the opportunity to act directly and authoritatively through an empowered water board?

If water really is “a life source” as the GOA describes it, all Albertans should be taking a much more active role in its governance than they have been allowed to do. It is time that Albertans get serious about our water because the consequences of our water crises are just getting started.

Sabrina Perić

Energy anthropologist, associate professor at the University of Calgary, and co-director of the Energy Stories Lab

 

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Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

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Rebranding the carbon tax won’t fix a failure

Premier Danielle Smith and Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz issued the following joint statement on the rebranding of the federal carbon tax:

“The federal government, in its flawed environmental activism, imposed a punitive carbon tax that did not reduce emissions, but instead, raised the cost of everything.

“Now, five years later, the federal carbon tax is universally known as a resounding failure. The carbon tax has punished Canadians while failing to reduce emissions.

“Canadians are struggling to pay a carbon tax on top of the federal government’s self-inflicted inflation crisis. We know that the carbon tax is costing Alberta families hundreds of dollars each year.

“In an act of desperation, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have the audacity to try and ‘rebrand’ the carbon tax – a cynical and desperate ploy that will fail.

“No ‘rebrand’ will save the federal government from its dwindling poll numbers. No speeches or sound bites will make a difference.

“Canadians will see it for what it is: a tax on the fuel they use to drive their kids to school, a tax on the food they buy, a tax on the businesses that they run, a tax on everything.

“Alberta’s government has a plan to achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. We are confident this can be done without a consumer carbon tax, and we’ll continue to call on Minister Guilbeault to end his relentless pursuit of a more expensive Canada and to work with us instead.”

 

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This photo from Sept. 10, 2023, taken just downstream of the Oldman River Dam spillway, shows how bad things were last year. Early predictions are the region could see similar drought-like conditions again this summer.

Oldman Watershed Council receives provincial grant

With record-low water levels throughout much of the province, including our region, the Alberta government has announced a $3.5-million investment in what it hopes will be the continuation of making the province more naturally drought resilient — helping to prevent floods and improve water quality.

On Jan. 16, it announced the awarding of eight grants, including one for $416,784 to the Oldman Watershed Council.

The council, which monitors the Oldman River Basin, is receiving the money for a project called Recovering Natural and Community Assets in the Oldman Watershed.

“The project will focus on natural infrastructure education and restoration to support communities impacted by drought,” said a government release.

It’s welcome news for the Oldman Watershed Council’s executive director.

“This vital grant will boost community resilience across the Oldman watershed at a critical time when southwest Alberta is facing extreme drought conditions,” said Shannon Frank.

“It will allow us to restore the essential natural infrastructure that reduces drought impacts for those being affected the most — agricultural producers, First Nations and municipalities.”

Provincial Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz feels it’s never been more important. Her government has already put up $46.5 million to address the crisis.

“By working with local communities and partners, we are helping mitigate the impact of future floods and droughts in communities across the province while creating healthier water bodies for future generations,” she said.

The minister is encouraging environmental groups and local governments to apply for funding under the province’s Watershed Resiliency and Restoration umbrella.

The next application deadline is Sept. 15.

 

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