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Water Matters News
June 28, 2010

1. Nexen's "bait and switch" means trouble for the Clearwater River

2. Where will the ERCB draw the line on tailings plans?

3. What's in it for water? — The overlap between responsible water and grizzly bear management in Alberta

4. Hydropower Legislation Inquiry: Will instream flow needs play a central role?

5. New faces at Water Matters

Nexen's "bait and switch" means trouble for the Clearwater River

Bait and switch seems to be Nexen's strategy for its Long Lake oil sands project — with Alberta on the hook to ultimately supply more water to the project. The Long Lake project is different from other projects because it integrates steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) with upgrading. The original plan indicated that only saline water, which is unfit for human consumption, would be used to create steam to bring up bitumen (the SAGD process). The freshwater for upgrading the bitumen, through which some of the water is lost or consumed, would come from underground wells.

But the promise was too good to be true, and Albertans, and at least one of their cherished rivers, are being asked to pay a higher price. Nexen has now applied to withdraw up to 17,000 cubic metres of freshwater from the Clearwater River each day for this project.

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Where will the ERCB draw the line on tailings plans?

Energy Resources Conservation Board approves first tailings plans despite failure to comply with Directive 074

In 2009, when the Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) delivered Directive 074: Tailings Performance Criteria and Requirements for Oil Sands Mining Schemes, it was hailed by industry and environmentalists alike as a positive step toward cleaning up the 170 km2 (and growing) expanse of tailings lakes in northern Alberta.

Oil sands companies did not wait long to test the ERCB's resolve. In September 2009, industry plans for managing tailings in accordance with Directive 074 were due. Incredibly, only two of the nine plans submitted even attempted to comply with Directive 074. And on April 23 2010, the ERCB approved plans for Syncrude that did not comply with Directive 074 and would delay implementation of liquid tailings reductions by the oil sands companies.

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What's in it for water? — The overlap between responsible water and grizzly bear management in Alberta

The book launch of The Grizzly Manifesto: In Defence of the Great Bear by author and conservationist Jeff Gailus has led to discussion throughout Alberta on the fate of grizzlies and indirectly prompted us to re-consider the overlap between grizzly bear habitat needs and the requirements for the responsible management of our watersheds.

The Grizzly Manifesto stresses the need for good governance and maintenance of large intact areas of low road density and, although Gailus's book does not focus on the similarities between the wildlife and water conservation movements, the parallels between the needs of sensitive watersheds and grizzlies suggest that often fragmented conservation initiatives around protecting wildlife and watersheds might benefit from greater coordination.

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Hydropower Legislation Inquiry: Will instream flow needs play a central role?

Once a dam is introduced to a river system, river health and electricity generation become inseparable. Our ability to secure instream flow needs — the amount of water to keep rivers healthy — becomes inextricably linked to the operation of dams and other hydro operations. Therefore, identifying instream flow protection requirements is an essential component for any valid hydropower approval framework.

Unfortunately, Alberta's Ministry of Energy did not mention instream flow needs in its announcement on March 26 that the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) would hold an inquiry into laws concerning hydropower generation. The press release spoke of "clean energy" and "green energy," but any mention of securing instream flow needs was noticeably absent. It is too early to judge the process, but it would appear that the "clean energy" initiative started with a narrow definition of renewable energy. Nevertheless, the scope of the inquiry is still being shaped, and there may still be opportunity to place instream flow protections up front where they belong.

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New faces at Water Matters

On May 17, 2010, Water Matters Society of Alberta announced the appointment of Carole Stark as the new Executive Director and Dr. Bill Donahue as Special Advisor on Water Policy. Both Carole and Bill bring new skills to Water Matters, complementing the team in place already. Liz Courtney has joined Water Matters to handle our accounting.

Join us in welcoming Carole, Bill and LIz to the Water Matters team. Short biographies for all Water Matters staff are available on the staff page of our website.

Support Our Work

At Water Matters we apply our energy towards outcomes that enhance water security for all Albertans. As a small organization with little overhead, we rely on people like you for support. Please consider making a charitable donation to Water Matters today.

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Protecting Alberta's watersheds. Inspiring people to action.