Improvements Made Under Water for Life Strategy, But Future Spending, New Initiatives Unclear
PHOTO: Left, Diana McQueen, Minister Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development; and Right, Anthony Watanabe, President & CEO, The Innovolve Group Inc., Canada
By Elona Malterre
Alberta’s nine-year-old Water for Life strategy has improved the province’s water resource management, including greater water conservation and better monitoring, says Alberta’s environment minister.
However, Alberta’s financial commitment to water resource management in the future is uncertain. Current spending for water research projects is ending and the Alberta Water Research Institute, along with its management board and international research advisory committee, no longer exists.
EnviroLine asked Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen, a keynote speaker at the Canadian Water Summit on June 28, 2012 in Calgary, how much money the provincial government will be allocating to water resource management.
“I don’t have a direct answer for you on the question,” McQueen said. “As we’re heading into results-based budgeting, we’re going to be looking at different things, but certainly we’ll have a conversation with Albertans about water and the importance of water, and different uses.”
Critics such Dr. David Swann, former Alberta Liberal Party leader and MLA for Calgary West, and Danielle Droitsch, former executive director of Bow Riverkeeper, have praised the Water for Life strategy as a good plan, but have criticized the government’s lack of political will and money to effectively implement its initiatives.
The strategy, released in 2003, is under-funded and relies too heavily on volunteers, they said.
Everyone praises the philosophy behind the strategy, Swann said, adding that “the principle is excellent,” but implementing the strategy itself “is grossly underfunded.” (See page 19 at http://envirolinenews.ca/file/page/archives/volume_17_issue_11_12.pdf?search=%22Danielle%22).
In 2007, an independent review by eight environmental and community groups called the Water for Life strategy “a positive step forward for water management in Alberta . . . If implemented it has the potential to greatly improve the ways Albertans use and think about water and poises Alberta as a leader in protecting watersheds, but unbalanced progress in implementing the strategy’s actions has limited its effectiveness to date.” (See http://www.water-matters.org/docs/water-for-life-renewal-analysis.pdf).
McQueen, speaking at the Canadian Water Summit which attracted 250 delegates, called Water for Life “a great, brilliant strategy . . . and we’ve been working over the years to implement it.” Volunteers, she added, “are doing an outstanding job.”
Water for Life: Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability established 10 watershed planning and advisory councils, with the local knowledge and expertise to assess each of the province’s major watershed basins and develop plans and activities to address issues.
The strategy was released under then provincial environment minister Lorne Taylor, who is widely credited with creating the blueprint for a comprehensive and long-term vision for managing Alberta’s water resources.
Taylor was subsequently appointed in 2006 as chair of the then new Alberta Water Research Institute, established with a commitment of $30 million from the Alberta government.
However, the Alberta Water Research Institute was integrated last year into the new Alberta Innovates-Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES), eliminating Taylor’s position.
According to the AI-EES 2010-2011 annual report, “At the end of this fiscal year, we completed the integration of the Alberta Water Research Institute into our new Water Resources strategic area. This shift will strengthen AI-EES and ensure we have the next tranche of funding in place to move forward with our goals in support of the province’s Water for Life strategy.” (See page 4 at http://www.ai-ees.ca/media/38924/ai-ees_annual_report_2010_11.pdf).
The AI-EES annual report, in a program summary, includes a graph that lists four financial figures allocated for water resources management in 2010-11. The total of these figures is $5.95 million.
“In 2010-11, the Alberta Water Research Institute’s (AWRI) Management Advisory Board made its final allocations of the original $30 million grant to the AWRI,” the AI-EES report says. “By the end of 2012-13, the projects associated with those funds will be completed.”
The report notes that as part of its annual review of research institutes, the AWRI’s International Research Advisory Committee “was pleased with the progress made in regard to research programs and the project portfolio. They concluded that AWRI is an effective catalyst for intensive multi-disciplinary research collaboration, bringing together the natural and social sciences combined with engineering and technology to provide knowledge and information that is relevant to the development of progressive public policy and improved water management practices.”
Despite the international advisory committee’s positive review of AWRI, however, the AI-EES annual report says that “Effective April 30, 2011, the (AWRI’s) Management Advisory Board and the International Research Advisory Committee were disbanded. The AI-EES Board is examining the option of reconstituting an advisory group with water expertise.”
According to AIEES’s report, Alberta’s Minister of Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education “has committed to appoint a new management board” for AI-EES’s water resources strategy. However, a new board has yet to be appointed.
AI-EES on its website lists “water resources” as one of four strategic focus areas for AI-EES, along with energy technologies, renewable and emerging resources, and environmental management.
In terms of water resources, the strategic priority for AI-EES is to “support the Water for Life Goals for safe secure water, healthy ecosystems and reliable water supplies,” the website says.
However, the extent of the information about water resources on AI-EES’s website amounts to three paragraphs (http://ai-ees.ca/home/introduction/water-resources) and four “success stories” (http://ai-ees.ca/home/initiatives/success-stories#water) – all initiatives started five years ago by the Alberta Water Research Institute. No new water resources initiatives are identified.
AI-EES, in an analysis of its 2010-11 performance by strategic area included in its annual report, ranks “Water Resources” the lowest of its four strategic areas in terms of performance toward AI-EES goals and targets.
Taylor now works as a special advisor to Alberta WaterSMART, a not-for-profit organization committed to developing and improving the management of Alberta’s water resources. (See http://www.albertawatersmart.com/taylor.html).
McQueen, in her talk to the Canadian Water Summit, didn’t mention the provincial government reconstituting an advisory group with water expertise or appointing a new management board for water resources. However, she pointed to significant progress by industry in using water more efficiently.
The seven sectors usually referred to on Alberta water conservation sites are: urban municipalities, agricultural irrigation, forestry, upstream oil and gas, downstream petroleum products, power generation and chemical producers.
Farm irrigation efficiencies have increased significantly from 35 per cent in 1965 to about 74 per cent today, and “we expect to reach 90 per cent in the next 10 to 15 years,” McQueen noted.
“In southern Alberta, 54 different crops are grown under irrigation and, without irrigation, we would not have Taber corn, sunflower seeds or alfalfa to name a few,” she added.
“More can and must be done,” McQueen said, adding that along with instituting cumulative-impact regulations for water resources, “In the future we will integrate water policy across government and integrate it with other policies to protect our air and land as envisioned under the (provincial) Land Use Framework.”
Asked by a conference delegate about water pricing, McQueen stressed: “We make a fundamental statement all the time. Water is not for sale in Alberta and water will not be for sale in Alberta.”
Richard Gotfried, vice-president, corporate and community engagement at Calgary Economic Development, in introducing McQueen, said that Calgary and Alberta were positioning themselves “not only as a global energy centre but as a thought leader in the energy and environment fields, not the least of which is the responsible use of water.”
In an afternoon break-out session, Peter Macios, general manager oil sands at GE Water and Process Technologies, told delegates that few industries around the world can match Alberta’s oilsands 98 per cent figure in recycling process water.
“I can tell you in my global journeys through the different continents, there [are] not many industries that have that bragging right,” he said.
“One of the things that I love is that the [oil and gas] industry does not use ‘sustainability’ and ‘operability’ as exclusive items. They are inclusive to one another . . .,” Macios said.
“So what I want you to take away when you leave here is that we have great companies here in Canada, here in Alberta, doing great things around sustainability . . . there’s innovation out there that’s making us more sustainable in the market place.”
The 98-per-cent water recycling figure that Macios referred to is the maximum for a best-in-class in situ oilsands operation. Suncor Energy’s MacKay River in situ facility, for example, recycles about 95 per cent of process water.
The average water recycling figure for in situ projects is approximately 90 per cent; for oilsands mining operations, it is 80 per cent, according to figures from Alberta Energy and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
“It takes about three to five barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil,” said Lorne Taylor, who chaired the Canadian Water Summit event.
“We need to really understand what the true value of water is to our society both in ecological services and economic services,” he said.
Taylor, who has a farming background, said that Albertans and Canadians need to understand the value of water in embedded terms, such as how many litres of water it takes to produce one pound of beef.
“Until we understand the true value of water, I think we can have all the nice discussions we want around here, but until we understand (the value of water in terms of what is being produced), I don’t think a lot of these discussions will progress,” Taylor said.
Nicholas Parker, executive chairman of the Blue Economy Initiative (http://www.blue-economy.ca/), opened a panel session on “Canadian Water Leadership” by asking: “But how do we address the value of embedded water when it takes one litre of water to make one calorie of food? How do you translate that into economics?”
The Blue Economy Initiative is probably the first economic inquiry into the value of water and the role of water in the economy, Parker said, adding that while water was “running through our fingers now in Canada,” it is contributing between $8 billion and $23 billion to the economy.
Cairine MacDonald, chair of the Water Stewardship Council for the Council of the Federation (http://www.councilofthefederation.ca/keyinitiatives/water.html), told delegates that policies about water have to come from the top down, and “to “keep pressure on the CEOs . . . and the premiers and the heads of government.”
David Marshall, chair of the Canada Wide Water Strategy for the Canadian Water Resources Association (http://www.cwra.org/), said Canadians want a Canada-wide water strategy.
A recent survey by Nanos Research showed that “6l.6 per cent of Canadians are ranking fresh water first” in their concerns, he said.
Marshall advocated using social media and new technologies to increase the “metabolic rate at which we collectively learn . . . Turn up the heat on those who are not walking the talk.”
For a history of the push for a national water policy/strategy, see page 5 of National Strategies for Energy & Water: The Illusion of Convergence, a Canada West Foundation report by Roger Gibbins and Larissa Sommerfeld, released in June 2012 (http://cwf.ca/pdf-docs/publications/NationalStrategies_Report_June2012.pdf).
Highlights of the Canadian Water Summit conference in Calgary are available at: http://watersummit.ca/?q=node/236 EnviroLine