May 21st, 2024

Phillips sounds alarm over coal mine queue jumping

By Herald on January 28, 2021.

Open water flows past the icy banks of the Oldman River Wednesday in the city's river valley. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski
Lethbridge Herald
Lethbridge West MLA Shannon Phillips is sounding the alarm over the Kenney government’s attempts to allow coal mining companies to jump the queue to obtain water licences they currently have no right to in the Oldman River watershed.
“What the GOA has done is put forward a plan to take up to eight billion litres of Oldman River water above the dam which have been set aside under the Water Act because you need unallocated water volumes to support hold backs for drought, other environmental conditions, and for other potential developments or irrigation stresses,” she explains.
“Essentially what the GOA did, realizing Benga-Riversdale-Hancock for Grassy Mountain needs three billion litres alone, and they don’t have access to that under their current licences, was quietly going around running it past a few municipalities, and this leaked out in late 2020, of taking that set-aside and changing its allowable uses to industrial use —  effectively allowing Benga access at Grassy, and any other subsequent coal strip mining that might come as a consequence of a regulatory approval for Grassy — to give them access to water they did not have access to under the normal functioning of the water market.”
The Oldman River, Phillips reminds readers, is a closed water system with a limited amount of volume available. The region is also prone to serious drought conditions at times. By taking this much reserve water out of the system to support coal mining, Phillips says it has the potential to negatively impact the future growth of other industries, including agricultural irrigation and food processing, in southern Alberta and even the future growth of local communities themselves.
“Even if a municipality wants to build a new subdivision, let alone attract a new industrial development like Cavendish, you all of a sudden have far fewer options,” she explains. “We are talking about eight billion litres of water that gets moved from one use to another one.
“It’s a big deal. They (the UCP) went and did a back room, backslapping deal (with coalmining companies) that puts the jobs we have now at risk. Whether you have sustainable growth in other sectors going forward depends on whether they still have water.”
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What’s new? Without public consultation, Kenney has: shut down recreational parks; bought $1.5 billion (and maybe more) tubes of steel without an exit plan; opened the headwaters to coal mining; and now is moving foreign coal companies to the front of the line for scarce water that may be needed to secure the regional agrifood industry in the future.

And on top of it all, Kenney passed legislation to lock in coal royalties at a measely 1%.

Whats going on, Alberta? Are we so pathetic that we can’t create forward looking jobs? What’s next, fur trading?! Ahhhrrgghh.

Grrrrgrashoinkarrrh. Sigh.