Alberta’s auditor finds province’s surface water management ineffective

By Sean Amato and The Canadian Press

Alberta’s auditor general says the province’s system for managing surface water is ineffective and not set up to deal with changing conditions.

Doug Wylie says in a report that Alberta Environment and Protected Areas has no water conservation objectives in most of its basins.

Wylie says he found a number of problems. Among them, only two of the province’s seven river basins have water conservation objectives. It’s also unclear, he says, if the two put in place in 2006 are working.

It says processes to monitor water use, assess risks and decide when conservation is needed aren’t very strong.

It concludes the province isn’t doing a good job making sure that water users are being efficient or staying within the requirements of their licences.

“Improvements need to be made and the standards that the department itself has set need to be complied with,” said Wylie.

The report comes as much of the province remains under drought conditions.

North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton on July 10, 2024. (Photo Credit: Sean Amato, CityNews)

82 per cent of Alberta’s surface water usage is agricultural, commercial, and industrial. The NDP alleges the UCP government has “Systemic issues” making sure businesses follow the law.

“We need a government who not only recognizes the importance of water conservation measures, but is willing to work with stakeholders to define what they are, and then to enforce them,” explained Sarah Elmeligi, NDP environment, parks and tourism critic.

Provincial regulators are also considering the expansion of water-intensive industries such as coal mining.

Indigenous-led group keepers of the water says the report is futher proof Alberta needs to declare a Level 5 drought, limit how much water industry can use and, ultimately, build a new water governance system.

“The solution moving forward to ensuring that there’s human right to water is to have co-management with indigenous communities,” said Jesse Cardinal, keepers of the water.

A spokesperson in the environment ministry tells CityNews Wylie’s recommendations are being accepted. Alberta has a drought plan in place and will spend $23 million over three years in an effort to fill gaps in water management.

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