Blog | December 13, 2011

By Mary-Ann Barr, Red Deer Advocate, Assistant City EditorWhen it comes to water, it’s pay attention or possibly pay up.Every month when I receive my power and natural gas bills, I am reminded how deregulation has failed Albertans.Deregulation was supposed to bring competition to the market, giving consumers more choice and ultimately saving us all money.Deregulation never saved anyone as much as a nickle. But it did, and still does, result in major profit increases for companies involved in providing energy to consumers.The complicated world of energy utilities in Alberta — some deregulation, some regulation, sometimes contracts, sometimes not, trying to predicting future energy prices, transmission and access fees, surcharges, rate adjustment riders, to name a few — has seen more than a few tales of woe cross my path. Over my past 15 years or so at the Advocate, energy has been the one topic I consistently hear the most complaints about — whether it’s about cost, billing, contracts, companies or government involvement.Heat and electricity fall in one category: if consumers don’t like it, they can go find some other way to heat and light their homes. One could always go chop down a tree and stock up on candles.But when it comes to water, a resource we know is declining, there are no alternatives. Water is water. It is essential to life.How much more would you be willing to pay for it?As the price of having water piped into our homes every day, without fail, increases, consumers are prone to be more careful, less wasteful.Price relates to conservation, something we are all becoming more cognizant of as climate change could bring a big impact in Alberta, which is already considered too dry in areas. But price isn’t the only thing that encourages water conservation. Education is even more important.Regardless, Albertans should never see the day where having clean drinking water is unaffordable. Given the experiences we’ve had with receiving power and natural gas in our homes, it’s worth sending a clear message to the powers that be about our water resource.That message is this: the government of Alberta should never allow large corporations to control our water and sell it back to us. We should never see the day when we have to sign a contract with a private corporation for water. We should never be at the mercy of the marketplace for water.All in favour say ‘Yes.’Recently, Public Interest Alberta came through Red Deer raising the alarm that private corporations could one day own water rights in Alberta, creating a similar situation to that in Australia, where profit-seeking has led to sharp increases in the price of water.Here in Alberta, those who hold water licences can sell unused portions of their licences, presumably to the highest bidder.Not surprisingly, this political pot of boiling water is a touchy issue with Alberta’s Conservative government.A few days later, the provincial government replied to concerns raised by Public Interest Alberta.No way will Alberta be subjecting its water to speculative corporate interests, Alberta Environment’s water policy guy told the Advocate.Granted, Alberta does allow water licence holders to sell unused portions of their quota to others.The province reassures concerned Albertans that corporate speculators aren’t going to be allowed to get in on the action.Public Interest Alberta argues that free-trade lawyers might ultimately be involved in whether Alberta’s water is in fact protected from large multinational companies.While it’s reassuring that the province seems to understand Albertans don’t want to go down the scary road of selling water to the highest bidder, it’s not reassuring that water licences can be sold at all.Those who have water licences should have to turn excess back over to the province. They should not be able to sell unused quotas. Regulation is essential. End of story.Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by phone at 403-314-4332, by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @maryannbarr1

This piece was published in the Red Deer Advocate on December 13, 2011. Read the full article on the Red Deer Advocate website.