Don’t sell the water

Risks involved in creating an Alberta market

Water Matters an Alberta-based non-governmental research and advocacy group released its final report in a three-part series studying water issues in the province. Moving Waters examined options for Alberta to achieve the provincial government’s Water For Life goals in which water will be available for the public environment and industrial use on a long-term basis.

Moving Waters authors Julia Ko and William F. Donahue studied the possibility of moving Alberta’s water management system away from the “First-In-Time First-In-Right” process under which water licences are allocated now to a water market.

Water markets have been adopted in several American states however the report concludes the system brings risks.

“Severe droughts elsewhere have forced governments to basically throw out old water management policies and spend billions of dollars on emergency measures to buy back water rights” the authors write in reference to the $8.9 billion the Australian government was forced to pay for public water access rights during a drought in that country that ended in 2006.

Water markets were also studied by Jeremy Schmidt for the Parkland Institute a think-tank based in Edmonton for its December 2011 report Alternative Water Futures in Alberta. Schmidt also determined that allocating water rights on an open market would be difficult to impose and run contrary to the government’s stated conservation and management goals.

Moving Waters suggested the government would be better to create a policy in which stakeholders’ needs and responsibilities are clear.

“Adopting policies and laws that clearly lay out the government’s responsibilities and obligations to protect river health would also clarify the changes needed to sustainably manage movement of water between users and the environment” Ko said in a press release.

Water Matters’ intention with these three reports was to persuade the Alberta government to base its future water management system on science in order to ensure the health and long-term sustainability of water ecosystems in the province.