Monday, March 29, 2010

Good to the Last Drop... if you can afford it.

This coming fall, the Government of Alberta will be amending Alberta's Water Act and expand the system of selling water to the highest bidder.

The idea of selling water rights to the highest bidder is repugnant to most Albertans. It seems this government is again trying to facilitate business at the risk of the environment and the well-being of average citizens. However, that doesn't seem to bother Mr. Stelmach, et. al. As long as what they do caters to industry (and particularly the petro-chemical industry) they ignore the long-term outlook of the province.

Alberta is the driest province in Canada with only 900 lakes (as opposed to 100,000) in Manitoba. Perhaps more than any other Canadian, Albertans understand the importance of water to the sustainability of our province... and our tradition of family farms. Access to fresh water is the birthright of every citizen. Water is precious and Albertans know it. For the sake of monetary gain, our current government is now contemplating limiting our access to water.

Unfortunately, we are governed by a party that cannot see the forest for the trees. Selling water to the highest bidder makes sense to this bunch government MLAs who believes everything in this province is up for sale. Short-term thinking for immediate profit. Nothing new for Alberta's PCs.

Selling water to the highest bidder... along with the loosened environmental oversight this province is behind bodes poorly for the future of this province. It will put the final nails into the coffin of many family farms and drive rural folks off their land. Unable to water livestock or crops, there will be an exodus from Alberta farms. The land will be left to those who can afford the highest bids for water... and who are they? You don't have to be a member of MENSA to figure it out.

As obvious and trite as it is to write... water is life. Selling water is equivalent to selling life. Water cannot be controlled by those with the most money. A government whose principles were to ensure the well-being of its citizens would never consider privatising water. The concept is simply absurd. Whoever controls water, controls life.

Water is a basic human right. Human rights cannot be paid for by those with access to the greatest financial power. Water is a resource that must be protected by responsible governments FOR the well-being of everyone... and not only those who can afford to exploit it.

Excuse the pun, but amendments to Alberta's Water Act ought to be a "watershed" event for this government. Choosing to give up Alberta's fresh water to the highest bidder ought to be the "straw" that breaks the back of this tired government.


  1. What alternative mechanism would you suggest? We need to ensure that the people up-stream take into account the interests of those downstream. How do we do it?

  2. Good question. First come first serve is no loner a workable situation. It occurs to me that perhaps a non-aligned group/assembly of stakeholders could assign rights based on what is equitable for all parties concerned.

    What sets off my alarms is that the interest with the most dollars could control water.

    There must be a better way and with all stakeholders involved in finding a solution, I believe there IS a better way than simply selling water rights.

  3. I'm skeptical that you'd find an assembly of stakeholders with more accurate, more responsive, more cost-effective, and more flexible representation of the interests at play than a well regulated market. Markets are not a cure-all, but they may be a cure-this.

    I appreciate where you're coming from on the importance of water to life. Clearly, it should not be allowed that any individual should find themselves without the necessities of life because they have been priced out of the market for water. Water for residential and similar purposes, it seems to me, should continue to be heavily subsidized, if not totally free.

    But I don't think you can take the "life" argument and extend it to a farm any more than you can to an oil sands operation. And respectfully, I'm not sure that protecting tradition should be a motivating factor in determining how to deal with scarce resources, either.

    Charging for commercial water rights, as long as we can set the price and do so wisely, rewards and promotes water conservation, makes wasters pay, and gives us the ability to fund the things that we're going to have to do in the future to deal with increased demand and diminished supply.

    I'm no fan of this government, but charging businesses to use our water seems no more offensive to me than charging them royalties to take our oil.

  4. Before people shoot from the hip, a knee-jerk reaction about 'rights', and chant, 'let the market decide', (an argument that has been discredited by the international bank meltdowns) take a Masters Level course in Water management/law/history/ecology, and 'know' what you are talking about.
    Land without water is uninhabitable and worthless. Water like air, is a life-necessity as well as the basis of all agriculture and food supply. Its not a resource like copper or oil to be sold to the highest bidder, used then contaminated beyond repair. And most water laws in place recognized this.
    That's why water in most provinces is 'rationed' by issuing licenses to use a certain amount to; farms, industries, neighbourhoods, etc.
    As the majority of the water is used, then returned to the groundwater/stream/lake, its supposed to be returned to the same level of quality that it was when sourced. That's why we have sewers leading to wastewater treatment plants. This legal stipulation is being ignored by most industries that do not renovate/treat their water output.
    As a footnote; there's no such thing as a 'free market'. Large corporations 'lobby' (bribe) governments to get special treatment, exemptions from laws and taxes and disproportionate amounts of finite resources.

  5. In response to the Anonymous above.

    Since when has industry or the PC government of Alberta shown a willingness to have a "well regulated market"? A blind eye, lack of meaningfull public input and a desire to rape the landscape is a more accurate description of the market forces in Alberta.

    The other issue with selling resources is that you then have no control over what the buyer does with the resource.