“Water exchange” vs. money for a licence – regardless the environment needs law and policy to evolve
There has been a bit of a media fury around the idea of a “water exchange” in recent days. First, the chairman of Nestle proclaimed Alberta a great place to have a water exchange, only to have the Environment Minister proclaim in the legislature that
Alberta’s water is not for sale and will not be for sale. The fact that Nestlé talked about being in discussions with Alberta: I have no reason to believe it’s wrong. There are all kinds of corporations and lobby groups that are constantly in discussion with the government on both sides of the issue. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that in addition to Nestlé, we’ve heard from literally hundreds and thousands of Albertans who do not share that opinion.
This statement by the Minister does little to shed any additional light on the fact that we already have the exchange of statutory rights to water for money in the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB). The system of water allocation transfers in the SSRB is essentially a form of market, albeit one that is subjected to a significant level of government control and regulation. The idea of streamlining this market into a full blown “water exchange” is not new. In 2010 a summary document of papers published by the Canada West Foundation and the Alberta Water Research Institute (AWRI) advocated the creation of a water exchange (see Toward a Unique Solution: Sustainable Management of Alberta’s Water Resources). Previous advice to the government had contemplated the opening of the water market while dealing with the contentious issues of environmental flows by suggesting that a set flow be protected outside the market (along with an allocation for basic human needs). The difficulty with this approach is that in overallocated regions such as the SSRB successful protection of environmental flows is difficult to foresee unless the water allocation system itself is significantly revamped.
The Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has been seeking strong and effective environmental laws since it was founded in 1982. The ELC is dedicated to providing credible, comprehensive and objective legal information regarding natural resources, energy and environmental law, policy and regulation in Alberta. The ELC’s mission is to educate and champion for strong laws and rights so all Albertans can enjoy clean water, clean air and a healthy environment. Our vision is a society where laws secure an environment that sustains current and future generations.
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