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 with Rob Miskosky

Our Most Valuable Resource

“It’s our planet’s most valuable resource, cities are powered by it, people fight over it, and life depends on it. If you think it’s plentiful, if you think it’s pure, you need to think again.” – from the documentary Last Call at the Oasis.

The headline screamed, “R.I.P. California (1850-2016): What We’ll Lose And Learn From The World’s First Major Water Collapse”. The article went on to discuss the current three-year drought that has been plaguing California and NASA’s recent announcement that California only has about 12 months of water remaining.

According to Jay Famiglietti, the leader of a team of scientists of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, “Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins—that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined—was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.”

New analysis of NASA satellite data suggests that “it will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometres) to recover from California’s continuing drought.”

And according to the New York Times, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which supplies much of California’s water, has just 19% as much snow as usual. There just isn’t 11 trillion gallons of water lying around waiting for use.

California has now imposed water restrictions on its residents. Each household is assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. And residents who exceed their allotment will face additional costs that could triple what are already sky-high water bills.

Meanwhile, at home here in Alberta, we continue to push the water envelope, using it as though it’s infinite. Allowing oil and gas companies to exploit our water resources without a checks and balances system in place to monitor what they’re using.

In the November issue of AO, I brought attention to the Duvernay shale gas play and the incredible amount of water that would be required for fracking purposes there and the effects that water loss would have on our fish-bearing streams and lakes in the region, most of which are home to endangered species.

Recently, I sat in on a conference call with Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) representatives and several environmental organizations including the Alberta Fish and Game Association and the Alberta Wilderness Association. The call was to discuss several land and water issues in the Duvernay and Little Smoky areas and what level of enforcement the AER is applying there, especially where Temporary Water Diversion Licences (TDL’s) are given to companies.

I was shocked to learn that the AER, after approving a TDL, has no way of knowing exactly how much water a company is diverting from a lake, river or stream. There is no monitoring system in place and compliance is merely hoped for. Said another way, 2500 cubic metres of water could become 5000 cubic metres when there is nobody in place to order the pump be shut off.

As well, the AER only has 70 field inspectors available to cover thousands of sites, which are prioritized depending on risk. Their hope is that the public will call their Energy and Environmental Emergency Response Line at 1-800-222-6514 when they notice something amiss because they “will act” on these calls.

Recognizing that water flow requirements to guarantee the ongoing health and sustainability of our ecosystems before that of oil and gas would be a good first step in the Duvernay.

Our water is our most valuable resource, and it is “our” water—all of ours—and it needs to be protected far better than what is currently being offered. ■

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