Water Matters and WWF Support DFO's Recommendation for Clear Withdrawal Limits on the Athabasca River

TORONTO, ONTARIO and CANMORE, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Oct. 18, 2010) - Environmental Groups are commending the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for recognizing the need to establish clear cut offs for water withdrawals from the Lower Athabasca River when flows get too low in order to protect aquatic life.

DFO's recent report, Science Evaluation of Instream Flow Needs (IFN) for the Lower Athabasca River states, "a flow should be established for the Lower Athabasca River below which there would be no water withdrawal," and because there is a lot of scientific uncertainty around how much water is needed to protect the river, "this flow should be established using a precautionary approach."

Currently, oil sands operators are always permitted to withdraw water, even when the ecosystem may be at risk. "Too often in the past, water withdrawals from the Athabasca have been based on the needs of industry first with inadequate consideration of the health of the river and surrounding lands and water," says Bill Donahue, Special Advisor for Policy at Water Matters.

DFO's recommendation addresses a longstanding water issue for the Lower Athabasca River. Environmental groups have continuously raised the need for a low flow threshold in the river that, when reached, would mean water withdrawals should cease. DFO's science advisory report now provides direct support for the position of environmental groups on this issue. Withdrawing water during low flows conditions is stressful to fish and other aquatic life as habitat is reduced.

"We argued during the planning process that it was essential to implement a low flow threshold to avoid placing the aquatic ecosystem at an unacceptable level of risk," says Rob Powell, Director of WWF-Canada's Mackenzie River Basin Program. Several citizen and environmental groups have argued the same.

"DFO's recommendation for a low flow threshold as part of a framework to protect the Lower Athabasca River is in fact what's required across Canada," says Tony Maas , Director of WWF-Canada's  Freshwater Program. "The cumulative pressures on Canada's rivers are increasing and there's a need to protect flows of rivers in order to sustain the ecosystems we rely on. DFO's recommendation is encouraging and should be the start of a shift on how we manage river flows across the country."

"We support DFO's call for clear limits on water withdrawals from the Lower Athabasca River," says Donahue, "The river cannot give water endlessly without serious harm to the ecosystem and people dependent upon it. Albertans have said this for a long time, so it is important for the federal government and the Government of Alberta to establish a strong threshold that safeguards the river for Canadians who depend on it."

DFO's report Science Evaluation of Instream Flow Needs (IFN) for the Lower Athabasca River is available at:

http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/Publications/SAR-AS/2010/2010_055-eng.html [external link]

About WWF

WWF is one of the world's most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit www.panda.org/media [external link] for latest news and media resources.

About Water Matters

Backed by robust research and policy analysis, Water Matters engages in outreach, capacity building, and education to advance watershed protection in Alberta. Water Matters policy paper have empowering citizens while assisting municipal, provincial and federal governments. For more information visit http://www.water-matters.org.

For more information contact:

Water Matters 

Bill Donahue
Special Water Policy Advisor
780 463 3971 


Robert Powell
Director, Mackenzie River Basin
780 459 9453 


Tony Maas
Director, Freshwater Program