Amendment would give blank cheque to irrigators

Bow Riverkeeper

For Immediate Release: September 5, 2007

A proposal before Alberta Environment would give the largest water license holder in all of southern Alberta the role of water broker. The Eastern Irrigation District located in southern Alberta has asked Alberta Environment for an amendment to its water allocation originally granted in 1903. "If granted, the amendment would allow the EID to deal out water to uses other than irrigation or agriculture," said Bow Riverkeeper Danielle Droitsch.

"The EID holds the largest water license on the Bow River, accounting for over one third of the flow of the river. This agreement effectively grants the EID permission to become water barons, selling water for any use. Alberta Environment would be giving away the keys to a substantial quantity of water making it an excellent deal for the EID who receives their enormous water allocation at no cost."

"On average, the EID only uses 76 percent of their allocated water. Some years, they use less than half of their allocation. There needs to be a debate over whether unused water should go back to the public domain. This proposal is a step in the opposite direction, encouraging the EID to maximize use of its existing license," said Droitsch.

"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 allow us to strike a balance between meeting basic human needs in this booming province, protecting environmental flows, and considering the effects of global climate change and drought," said Droitsch.

In 2006, the government closed the Bow River basin to new water licenses citing the over-allocation of the river. To assure water is made available to new users or expanding municipalities, the government created a regulated market. This regulated market, called a "transfer system", brings social and environmental considerations into account, allows for public input, and encourages the "return" of 10 percent of the transferred water back to the river.

"If granted, this amendment would create a loophole allowing the EID and one third of the Bow River to bypass existing government regulation under the 'transfer system' and preventing the government from withholding some water for the public good."

"With over 75% of the Bow's water licenses going to irrigators, this amendment would set a dangerous precedent. This opens the door significantly toward a more unregulated market driven largely by the mighty dollar."

"Irrigation districts get this water for free for agriculture use. Is it fair that they can now turn around and sell that same water for profit?"

The period for public comments on the proposal expires on September 21, 2007. The public is encouraged to file a statement of concern.

For more information about public involvement in water licensing decisions see...

Contact: Danielle Droitsch (403) 678-7964 or (403) 538-7785
Edmonton Contact: Lindsay Telfer (Sierra Club, Prairie Chapter) (780) 710-0136