Development driving province’s public water consultations

Development around Central Alberta’s lakes is helping drive the province’s public water consultations.

Development around Central Alberta’s lakes is helping drive the province’s public water consultations.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth pressure around Central Alberta lakes — Sylvan, Gull, Buffalo, Pine — and we’re seeing an increase in algae blooms as a result,” said Andy Lamb, Central Region director for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

He spoke at a Red Deer River Watershed Alliance breakfast on Friday about the province’s Water Conversations program, part of the ongoing Water For Life strategy to ensure safe, secure drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems and reliable supply for industry.

Province-wide consultations focus on lakes, hydraulic fracturing, drinking and wastewater systems and water management. A session was held in Red Deer on Thursday night.

Public input confirms the need for clarity around the roles of all three levels of government regarding lakes.

“There are lots of stewardship groups around them, but do we need provincial-scale management to support them? What we’re hearing is, set up an umbrella group for a unified approach,” Lamb said, adding the public also wants sources of chemical and biological pollutants identified.

While hydraulic fracturing — using fluids under high pressure to free hydrocarbons from underground rock – is well regulated and been used since the 1950s, Albertans want better inspections and monitoring, including baseline testing to see if fracking changes groundwater aquifers.

No potable water should be used, fresh water should be conserved and industry should pay for water for fracking, he added.

Though the province regulates and monitors municipal and private drinking and wastewater treatment, its encouragement of regionalized systems has led to worries about cost increases and loss of local control. The input sessions also show needs for ensuring water for drinking before industrial use, more information on groundwater supply and adequately funding watershed planning and advisory councils like the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance.

Water management discussions stress no sale or interbasin transfer of Alberta water, actions Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen has said the province won’t take. Input also identified water use optimization, conservation and storage as important as well as regional planning.

Stakeholders also want more information and data to better understand what’s allocated where and by whom. They have the perception Calgary and Edmonton are “hoarding” their allocations for future use, said Lamb.

“We’ve been getting very good response with a huge amount of feedback.

“We’ll produce a What We Heard document for use to inform future government water policy, probably by early summer.”

The public can take part through an online workbook and survey until March 29. That information can be found at www.waterconversation.alberta.ca.

rfiedler@reddeeradvocate

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