Blog | September 28, 2012

Fracking, efficient management and healthy lakes all on table

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalPublic debate over fracking, water markets and dying Alberta lakes will heat up in coming months as the provincial government prepares to embark on a provincewide water consultation.For Albertans such as Sandi Benford, the meetings can't come soon enough. She says the lake near her home is choking on algae, and she wants the province to help save it.Benford is the mayor of the Summer Village of Southview and president of the Lake Isle Aquatic Management Society."People are moving away because the lake is in such bad shape," Benford said Thursday at a meeting of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.The lake is "shallow, high phosphorous, with high chemical concentrations, which cause the growth of vegetation, which is choking everything out."The year before last, we had a winter fish kill, so fishing was closed. There's less boating.…The smell is so bad, you can't even walk."Earlier this summer, Alberta Health Services issued a blue-green algae advisory warning people to stay away from the lake, because contact with the algae in the water can cause nausea, vomiting and rashes."You can have the most beautiful village, but the idea of a summer village is that you're around the lake," Benford said.Environment Minister Diana McQueen responded to Benford's concerns Thursday by revealing the province will conduct water consultations across the province in the coming months."This is the time for us not to come with closed-end policies, but to really come out and have a good conversation," McQueen said at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention Thursday.McQueen said the focus will be on education and engagement and only one concept is not on the table: "We will not be selling water to other jurisdictions," she said.The consultations will centre on four key areas, McQueen said: healthy lakes, the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, efficient water management - an issue that will include debate about water licences and markets - and municipal issues, including waste water.AUMA president Linda Sloan said municipalities have developed an extensive water policy paper that outlines the concerns they will bring to the province."We want to approach the discussion with agreement on some principles," Sloan said. "That being that the health and well-being of the human population is assured first of all in the allocation of water licences."She said she doesn't want the province to adopt "a process where the party with the most resources can purchase or receive allocations that exceed those given to municipalities."Bill Moore-Kilgannon of the advocacy group Public Interest Alberta is pleased the province is entering into consultations with the public, but said they will only be fruitful if the government is transparent about the implications of each option."These consultations are about whether cities will grow, whether farmers will have access to enough water, how water is instrumental to the growth of our economy, and ultimately, who is going to control this incredibly precious resource ," Moore-Kilgannon said."As we've seen from other jurisdictions, like Australia, if they get this wrong (and adopt water markets), taxpayers will be spending billion of dollars fixing the mistakes."

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journalkkleiss@ article was published in the Edmonton Journal on September 28, 2012. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.