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Ottawa Lashes Alberta Water Plan

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Federal officials and independent experts say Alberta's plans to protect provincial rivers won't work, and could even accelerate environmental damage, new documents show.

Inter-government e-mails reveal the federal government "disassociated" itself from Alberta's water conservation plan, and sent letters of concern, because its experts believed the province's plan was "insufficient" to keep rivers healthy.

A government-funded consultant's report said the plan "fails to propose any meaningful measures" to protect aquatic environments, while government scientists predicted it would result in "significant" and "serious" degradation of fisheries.

"If you care deeply about our water … you would be very shocked to see how this market-based plan has failed to address the fundamental crisis that's happening," said Bill Moore-Kilgallon of Public Interest Alberta.

"The government has ignored it for idealogical and political reasons - some people stand to make massive amounts of money from this, from selling something that belongs to Albertans, just like air," said Moore-Kilgallon.

Government normally keeps such documents secret, but they became public when they surfaced in a lawsuit.

Alberta Environment spokesman Chris Bourdeau said the government consulted a wide variety of experts and had to make tough decisions.

"At the end of the day, a decision needed to be made that represented all perspectives," he said, "ensuring that we could, to the best of our ability, protect the aquatic ecosystems but at the same time recognize that water is needed by communities that exist on the rivers."

The internal records provide a window into government discussions in the years and months leading up to the August 2006 release of the Water Management Plan for the South Saskatchewan River Basin.

That plan is still in place.

It put a cap on new water licences for the strained Bow, Oldman and South Saskatchewan River basins, a move that earned praise from environmental groups and criticism from those worried that constraints on water would undermine economic growth.

Source: Edmonton Journal

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