For more information, see our Calgary Herald Op-Ed
A proposal before Alberta Environment would give the largest water licence holder in all of southern Alberta the role of water broker. While this proposal affects only one licence in a rural part of Alberta, the ramifications of its approval will affect the overall management and allocation of water across Alberta.
What is the proposal?
The Eastern Irrigation District (EID) located in southern Alberta has asked Alberta Environment for an amendment to its water allocation licence originally granted in 1903. This amendment would allow the EID to allocate a portion of its licence without any government oversight, public input, or consideration of environmental impacts. It also empowers the EID to decide who gets the water in a river system that is already over-allocated.
Why should I be concerned?
If the government approves this proposal, they will effectively be handing off important decision-making power to a private interest. This would open the door for other licence holders to "amend" their licences, potentially perpetuating a private water market in the province. It is time the government stepped in to find a solution that meets everyone's needs - not just those of the water licensees.
Allowing water licensees to become water brokers is not in the best interest of Albertans. Right now, more than ever, the government needs to pay careful attention to the use of our limited water supplies. Our booming economy and ever-growing population makes water allocation a critical issue for Alberta. It is important we allocate water not solely based on a "water market" but also in the best interest of Alberta. The Crown holds the water in trust for the public - not licensees.
Does the EID need this amendment to make their water available to others?
No. In 1999, the Alberta government enacted the Water Act, which established a system to allow those who need water to obtain it from licensees under government oversight. This water allocation transfer system ensures public involvement, consideration of environmental issues, and reallocation of some water back to rivers (called the conservation holdback).
Rather than give irrigation districts the power to allocate water in any way they choose, we should be rethinking our entire system of water allocation. Our century-old system doesn't meet the needs of Alberta’s 21st-century realities. We need a system that allows us to strike a balance between meeting basic human needs, protecting environmental flows, and considering the effects of global climate change and drought.