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News Release: Alberta’s new drought committee excludes a voice for the environment

February 8, 2024

According to Government of Alberta data, the Oldman River (pictured) was 63 percent below its average natural flow in 2023, with drought conditions expected to continue in 2024. Despite these conditions, Alberta’s new drought committee features no voice for the environment. Photo © Phillip Meintzer

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) is extremely disappointed to learn that the Government of Alberta’s newly created Drought Advisory Committee does not include any representation from environmental organizations but made room to include industry representatives such as Ian Anderson, former CEO of the Trans Mountain pipeline corporation.

According to the province’s announcement on Feb. 7, 2024:

“The six-person advisory committee includes leaders with experience in agriculture, irrigation, Indigenous, industry, rural and urban issues. It will act as an independent sounding board to help the government support communities, farmers and ranchers, and businesses share, conserve and manage water during a potential drought. The committee will give advice directly to Alberta’s minister of environment and protected areas.”

Alberta and much of the prairies are currently experiencing prolonged drought conditions and below-average precipitation. There are 58 water shortage advisories across the province, according to a Jan. 22 presentation from a regional director with Alberta Environment and Protected Areas. As of Jan. 4, water storage is drastically below normal at the Oldman, St. Mary, Pine Coulee, and Waterton reservoirs. The St. Mary reservoir, in particular, is at only nine percent of its storage capacity when it would normally be between 50 to 74 percent full at this time of year.

While it seems encouraging that the Alberta government took the initiative to establish an advisory committee for the sake of drought preparations, the lack of any representation from environmental perspectives is alarming. In fact, the news release does not contain a single mention of the environment or aquatic ecosystems other than in Minister Schulz’s title.

“It’s important for Albertans and our leaders to recognize that water is not solely a resource meant for human consumption,” says Phillip Meintzer, Conservation Specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association, adding that “a significant amount of water needs to be left in rivers and streams for the maintenance and sustainability of healthy aquatic ecosystems and the wildlife who rely on them.”

The South Saskatchewan River Basin has been closed off to new water licenses since 2006 because it was recognized as already being over-allocated, and Alberta already fails to meet many of the water conservation objectives we have established. According to 2020 data from Environment and Protected Areas, agriculture and irrigation hold licenses for nearly 50 percent of Alberta’s allocated freshwater, while the oil and gas industry and municipalities hold around 12 percent each. Each of those sectors are represented on this committee, but the environment has been ignored.

The announcement of this committee seems to prioritize municipalities and business interests, but we cannot have thriving communities or economies if the ecosystems we rely on either no longer exist or fail to function as we have come to expect. If Alberta excludes environmental voices as it prepares for worsening drought, who is going to speak on behalf of those ecosystems?

Alberta Wilderness Association is encouraging the Government of Alberta to expand the membership of this Drought Advisory Committee to include more diverse representation, including environmental interests, as well as expanding its Indigenous membership.

For more information, please contact: 

Phillip Meintzer, AWA Conservation Specialist
(403) 771-1647
pmeintzer@abwild.ca

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