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Coalition challenges Alberta water markets

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The Canwest News Service reports that, "A coalition of organizations began a campaign Thursday urging Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner not to introduce legislation that would establish a province-wide water market."


The Our Water is Not for Sale coalition includes the Council of Canadians, Public Interest Alberta, the National Farmers Union, the United Church of Canada, the Sierra Club, and many other groups. "[Council of Canadians prairies organizer Scott Harris said] the groups in the network have disparate interests, but they all agree on one thing: leaving decisions about who will have access to water up to the market will not ensure there is enough water left in Alberta's rivers to ensure their health and will not ensure basic human needs are prioritized as the province increasingly struggles with the water crisis."


The Calgary Herald reports that, In southern Alberta -- where water supply has always been a concern -- a sweeping ban exists on new licences for nearly every river, lake and stream. It's sparked a small but burgeoning private market for water since the restrictions came into place in 2006. ...Some 52 transfers have occurred since 2006, including a high-profile water deal that saw Western Irrigation District farmers give up some of their water rights to support a mammoth horse racing track and mall development on Calgary's northern outskirts. The agreement cost the Rocky View County $15 million. ...In southern Alberta, the pace of economic growth along with the possible effects of climate change have led heightened anxieties about water rights. In northern Alberta, the use of water for oilsands development has also caused apprehension about supply. ...The Council of Canadians charges that Alberta is the province with the least amount of fresh water in Canada and the most critical supply issues looming in the future.


The Canwest News Service article adds that, "The province announced in the fall of 2008 that it would review the 1999 Water Act and introduce new legislation governing how decisions about water allocation are made in the province. [Harris said,] 'Indications are that the government plans to introduce a province-wide largely deregulated water market which will determine who will have access to water in the future.'"


[Harris] added that [the coalition members] are also troubled about how the government is going about making changes to the Water Act. With something as critical as water, there should be more exploration of options tried in other jurisdictions. Instead, as shown by the three reports it released in November to guide the review, the government has predetermined the outcome of its review by focusing exclusively on water markets as a policy option which will decide who has access to water. Harris said that they're also concerned that in over two years of review there has been practically no public engagement or consultation on the issue.


The article notes, "A public consultation schedule has been taken to cabinet by Renner, Cara Tobin, an Alberta Environment spokeswoman, confirmed. The consultation will likely take place in the fall."


In June 2009, Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan told Fast Forward Weekly, "The water market system is absolutely not the solution. We consider water to be a human right. When you allocate according to the laws of the market, then you see water going to those who can pay the most. So it goes to the highest bidder."

In November 2009, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow told the Edmonton Journal, It looks like the province is going to be the first in Canada to move to a market-based solution for water. It's a big concern because the public loses control of something essential for life and it becomes a market commodity. ...We need to have such a strong model of conservation and a notion of equity in access to it. And instead Alberta is moving to a (system of) leave a little bit in the ground, we'll have that base amount, and then everything else is a free-for-all put out to the market. Letting the market decide who will have access to water violates the public trust doctrine, a principle of common law which regards water as belonging equally to all peoples and managed by governments on their behalf.

To counter the threat of water markets in Alberta, the Council of Canadians is considering a speaking tour in the province with Barlow on this issue in the fall, speaking out at the public consultations, working with small municipalities (and the associations that represent them) that would not be able to afford scarce water in a market-regime, media work, a research report, and bringing speakers from countries that live under a water market system to Alberta.


The Canwest News Service article is at http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Coalition+battles+Alberta+wide+wate..., the Calgary Herald article is at http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Critics+want+water+licences/3253866/st....


Blogs -- Water markets: The Alberta government will face a battle, http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/mvk/2010/03/water-markets-alberta-govern..., Another step towards water markets in Alberta, http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/mvk/2010/04/another-step-towards-water-m..., also

VIEW: "Canada should look at Spain's water banks," says Eric Reguly, http://www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=409; NEWS: Council challenges water markets in Alberta, http://www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=845; NEWS: Water definition at core of debate, http://www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2604; NEWS: Alberta faces water crisis, looks to water markets, http://www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3278.

Media Releases -- Council of Canadians warns against Alberta water market plans (November 2009), http://www.canadians.org/media/water/2009/23-Nov-09.html, Message to Renner: Our Water is Not for Sale, http://www.canadians.org/media/water/2010/08-Jul-10-3.html.

Articles - There is No Market for Water, http://www.canadians.org/publications/CP/2010/spring/water.pdf

Brent Patterson, Director of Campaigns and Communications, Council of Canadians. www.canadians.org


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