Potential diversion of billions of litres from Red Deer River causes concerns

Red Deer city councillor says maintaining water quantity is as important as quality

City Coun. Lawrence Lee says it’s time to stand up for water quantity, as well as quality, to ensure the Red Deer River retains a healthy flow.

He’s very concerned Calgary-based Vesta Energy Ltd. is seeking to withdraw six million cubic metres of water annually from the river for oil fracking.

Lee equates this to having a city of 80,000 people locating upstream from Red Deer.

Only, unlike most municipally used water, which goes back into the river after treatment, water injected into the ground for industry is never returned to the river.

“So unless Dickson Dam releases the flood gates and we get more headwaters released into the ecosystem, what are we looking at here?” asks Lee.

He notes Red Deerians count on the river for their drinking water, as well as countless other uses.

Lee intends to outline his concerns about Vesta’s water licence application to the Alberta government. Although Red Deer city council hasn’t taken an official position yet, Lee says he will ask for council’s support.

The City of Red Deer just installed a new system to remove phosphorous from water used by city residents before it’s returned to the river. Council also endorsed on Monday a charter that reinforces the protection of water quality, as requested by the Red Deer River Municipal User Group.

But Lee believes, “if we don’t look at managing water quantity, then managing water quality is all for naught.”

Vesta seeks a 10-year water diversion licence

Vesta Energy Ltd. is already drawing Red Deer River water for fracking under a temporary diversion licence approved for the company’s oil operations near Joffre. Now the company is seeking a multi-year licence from Alberta’s Energy Regulator.

If approved, water would be taken out of the Red Deer River just west of Penhold. The company is proposing transporting it by flat hose and booster pumps. Vesta will later consider building a permanent water pipeline.

The company states it intends to maximize the re-injection of water by working with municipalities to access their wastewater streams and by improving operating practices to increase water-use efficiency.

The Red Deer River Watershed Alliance is calling for Vesta’s application to be considered in the context of other water licences and potential future demands in the province.

In March 2018, global energy company Repsol applied to the Alberta Energy Regulator for a 10-year water diversion licence to remove 1.8 billion liters of water per year for fracking from the Clearwater River, which flows into the North Saskatchewan River.

The application is still under government review. But more than 50 people in the Rocky Mountain House area have formed the Clearwater River Coalition, concerned Repsol could potentially harm the river ecosystem and local drinking water supply.

The Red Deer Watershed Alliance is trying to research already-granted water diversion licences to get a picture of how much of Red Deer River’s flow has been reduced.

The cumulative effects of these developments should to be taken into account and balanced against the need to safeguard the City of Red Deer’s water source, says the group’s watershed planning manager, Josee Methot.

Red Deer Coun. Michael Dawe says the Red Deer River is one of the few in Alberta that still has allocatable water.

“We have to be careful” not to over allocate it, he adds, because water licences are hard to take away once they’ve been granted, and a lack of future water supply will impact the growth and health of regional communities.

With water becoming scarce in many parts of the world, Dawe stresses that better long-term planning is needed in Alberta — otherwise, he fears the future could resemble a photograph he has from 1892.

It was such a parched year that a horse and buggy are pictured rolling along the dry middle of what should be the Red Deer River.


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