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Albertans tell province to do more to protect water; government releases plan
John Cotter, The Canadian Press December 17, 2014
EDMONTON - Albertans say they want the province to do much more to protect and conserve fresh water.
Some concerns outlined in a government report call for better management of the health of lakes and restricting the use of fresh water and chemicals in hydraulic fracturing.
People also told the province to more aggressively protect the headwaters of rivers, curb the use of fresh water by the oilsands and ensure that people, not industry, are the first priority when it comes to water.
There are also calls for more dams and reservoirs to store water, especially in the south, but such projects should not negatively affect First Nations and Metis.
The concerns are what the government heard at meetings and from surveys and messages from more than 2,000 people.
Alberta Environment has responded with a 20-point conservation action plan, but most measures won't kick in until next year or beyond.
"Albertans want to ensure that water quality and quantities remain strong for the future," Environment Minister Kyle Fawcett said Wednesday in a release.
The measures includes plans to reduce the amount of water that oilsands producers can use from the Athabasca River and to better manage oilsands tailings ponds. Details of these plans are expected to be released by next spring.
The government said it plans to bring in standards for baseline water-well testing near hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations in order to protect groundwater, especially in rural areas.
It also is developing a water conservation policy for fracking operations to minimize the energy industry's use of fresh water. The guideline is to be rolled out next year by the Alberta Energy Regulator.
"Perhaps the strongest message received from participants was the need to reduce the use of fresh water by hydraulic fracturing operations and consider alternative water sources," the report says.
Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water, nitrogen, sand and chemicals at high pressure underground to fracture rock and allow natural gas or oil to flow through wells to the surface
Water use from the Athabasca River by the oilsands industry in northern Alberta has been closely watched by First Nations and environmental groups.
A draft government report last year estimated industrial water demand on the Athabasca is expected to increase by nearly 500 per cent by 2020.
The province said it will also work with communities to improve municipal water systems.
Jason Penner, an Alberta Environment spokesman, said as the province continues to grow, the demand for water will only increase, and obviously there is a limited supply.
"Water continues to be identified by people as the most precious, most treasured resource," Penner said. "They are looking for more conservation, better, more responsible use of water by all sectors, including industry."
Newfoundland environmentalist agrees water metering would encourage conservation
Gary Kean, The Telegram December 17, 2014
Glen Keeling expects municipalities will eventually be mandated to have sewage treatment systems, so they might as well start saving for the exorbitant cost of it now.
Keeling, a member of the Western Environment Centre’s board of directors, was reacting to the City of Corner Brook’s budget highlight of increasing the water and sewer levy in 2015. The combined levy will be $555 for residential properties and $635 for commercial properties, both of which include $100 for the sewer component.
The sewer levy will be reserved for the eventual costs associated with a wastewater treatment plant, currently expected to cost as much as $60 million, and which could be completed as early as 2020.
“The money will have to come from somewhere, so it only makes sense to have an ample fund,” said Keeling.
Keeling also supports the notion of implementing a full-scale water metering system in Corner Brook. People pay for electricity and other things in accordance to how much of it they consume, he said, so why not water?
“I am an advocate of water conservation and the flat tax on water does nothing to reduce consumption,” said Keeling.
“There is no incentive to conserve and water metering would help do that.”
B.C. First Nations band threatens legal action over Princeton mine tailings spill
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press December 18, 2014
The Lower Similkameen Indian Band says it is considering seeking an injunction to stop work at the Copper Mountain Mine near Princeton until a third-party investigation can be conducted into the spill and clean-up. A discharge box plugged and overflowed on Dec. 10, spilling 500 tonnes of mine slurry into a treed ravine and into Wolf Creek, which flows into the Similkameen River, shown here.
VANCOUVER - A First Nations band is threatening legal action against a mining company and the B.C. government over a taillings spill in the southern Interior.
The Lower Similkameen Indian Band says it is considering seeking an injunction to stop work at the Copper Mountain Mine near Princeton until a third-party investigation can be conducted into the spill and clean-up.
A discharge box plugged and overflowed on Dec. 10, spilling 500 tonnes of mine slurry into a treed ravine and into Wolf Creek, which flows into the Similkameen River.
Chief Keith Crow says the river is the "lifeblood" of his band and he's concerned about long-term effects on the water his community uses for drinking, fishing and farming.
Interior Health issued a do-not-use water advisory that was lifted for most of the area on Tuesday when the water was deemed safe.
Copper Mountain president and CEO Jim O'Rourke says two barriers meant to contain tailings overflowed but the company has installed a larger barrier to prevent future spills.
He says the slurry only reached the upper part of Wolf Creek on the mine's property and workers installed silt curtains to prevent tailings from flowing further down.
O'Rourke says workers immediately contacted regulatory authorities and the Ministry of Environment has been overseeing the spill clean-up and prevention efforts.
But Crow's band is calling for a full independent inquiry and environmental review. He's worried the slurry may still flow into the Similkameen River.
"As stewards of the land, we're responsible for everything that happens within our territory and our land. When spills and things like this happen, we need to have a say," he says.
O'Rourke says the Lower Similkameen band has been kept apprised of the clean-up and about 10 band members are employed by the mine.
"We're very sorry it happened, but it was a mistake," he says, adding that "unfortunately" existing barriers protecting the ditch weren't sufficient and they are correcting that so a spill never happens again.
The Ministry of Environment continues to collect water samples on a daily basis and toxicity tests for rainbow trout and invertebrates conducted immediately after the spill passed with 100 per cent survival, says a spokesman.
Ministry staff are working with the Upper and Lower Similkameen First Nations to co-ordinate a discussion about the cause and impact of the spill and next steps, the spokesman says.
Mining companies have faced increased public scrutiny since the massive Mount Polley spill in B.C.'s Cariboo region in August, which released about 25 million cubic metres of water and tailings materials into nearby lakes and rivers.
Fracking water use a concern for Albertans: report
Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal December 16, 2014
EDMONTON - Albertans have major worries about the amount of water used by the oil industry in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas and also want more protection for lakes threatened by blue green-algae, says a new report
After a year of consultation on water issues, the environment deparment Wednesday released an “action plan” with priority areas, many of which are already under review.
“Perhaps the strongest message received from participants was the need to reduce the use of fresh water” in fracking, says the report, one of the first major reports from recently appointed Environment Minister Kyle Fawcett.
Fracking involves pumping water, sand and chemicals under pressure to release oil and gas trapped in rock formations.
Since 2006, the province has required oil companies to consider alternatives such as saline water from deep undergound before using fresh water in fracking, notes the report.
The department is now reviewing that 2006 policy and will announce new guidelines in 2015 with “the goal to minimize the industry’s use of fresh water.” There is no detail to indicate whether the updated policy will be more stringent.
The report also cites citizens’ concerns that fracking will contaminate groundwater and water wells. They called for “baseline water testing” before fracking is allowed in an area to deetermine if pollution occurs.
The report says guidelines for testing water wells near fracking operations are under reivew and will be ready in 2015.
To reassure the public, the government will set up a website that will include the results of water well testing, water licensing details for oil companies and water use by fracking operations.
The report also says the department will release in 2015 — as expected — the long-promised low-flow cut off levels for the Athabasca River, a subject under debate for more than ten years with oilsands companies.
Environmentalists and First Nations want to ensure that in winter especially, water withdrawal by oilsands companies can be halted if water levels get too low to support aquatic life.
“We are looking for legally enforceable low-flow cutoff,” said Erin Flanagan from the Pembina Insitute. “We’ll be waiting to see what is released.
No details were provided in the report which says the policy will “balance social, environmental and economic interests.”
A draft document exempts Suncor and Syncrude from the requirement to reduce water intake at low-flow cutoff.
As more mines go ahead, such as the proposed $13-billion Frontier mine south of Wood Buffalo Park, withdrawals on the river will increase on the Athabasca River, she noted. In the report, many Albertans also said they wanted the province to take a greater role in setting policy to protect lakes, though there would have to be room for some local autonomy, says the report.
Currently, managing lakes is up to local municipalites.
The report also calls for more research into water storage on the South Saskatchewan river in a “water bank,” and impacts of climate change on Alberta rivers.
Water advisory issued after small spill Thursday at Princeton mine: Tailings pipe rupture at mill site not detected for about 20 minutes, CEO says
Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun December 11, 2014
Interior Health will issue a do-not-use water advisory for Wolfe Creek as a precautionary measure following a small tailings spill Wednesday evening at Copper Mountain mine near Princeton, the mines ministry said Thursday.
The water advisory is for Wolfe Creek immediately downstream from Copper Mountain mine to the mouth of the Similkameen River. Copper Mountain staff have installed silt curtains in the creek to help prevent tailings flowing farther down the creek, said the ministry.
“Hourly testing of downstream water samples indicate these measures are working. No tailings have been detected in the creek 300 metres downstream from the tailings storage facility,” chief mines inspector Al Hoffman said in a written statement.
First Nations representatives from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band are also at the site, noted the ministry.
A tailings pipe at the mill site ruptured and was not detected for about 20 minutes, spilling about 500 tonnes of tailings, said Copper Mountain president and CEO Jim O’Rourke.
Normally, a ditch alongside the pipe would contain the tailings slurry but “unfortunately” it overflowed, said O’Rourke, who immediately went to the mine following the spill.
Mine workers contained the spill just downstream of the dam, he said. “The guys at the site did a good job,” O’Rourke said.
Public interest and scrutiny has increased at mines following the failure of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley tailings dam last August.
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