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6 Tuesday June 2 2015 ENVIRONMENT WATERSHEDS Protectingthe environment creatingprosperity. OneyearagotheGNWTassumedresponsibilitiesforawell-developed environmentalprotectionandregulatorysystem. Ahealthywell-managedenvironmentwillsustainallNWTresidentsandisthe foundationforahealthylife.Ourintegratedco-managementsystemprotectsthe economicsocialandculturalwell-beingofallresidents.Investmentsinmanaging ournaturalresourcestogetherpayoff inthehealthofourpeopleandthestrength ofoureconomy. Theregulatorysystemwenowmanagebalancesourcommitmenttorealizeour economicpotentialinallregionswhileprotectingthelandandenvironmentthat hassustainedourpeopleforgenerations. TheresourcesectoristhesinglelargestcontributortotheNWTeconomy.Mining hascreatedmorethan28000jobsandproduced46billioninmineralssince theearly1930s.Ourterritoryhasworld-classoilandnaturalgasreservesandhas hadanactivepetroleumindustryforalmostacentury. TheGNWTiscommittedtoworkingwithAboriginalgovernmentsNWT residentsandindustrytorefinetheregulatorysystemtoreflectnorthern prioritiesandprovidegreatercertainty. April 1 marked the one-year anniversary of Devolution in the NWT. In the first year there were 7 water licences signed by a GNWT minister all in less than 45 days 2196 active mineral claims 8 projects funded under the Mining Incentive Program 5 new environmental management programs being delivered by the GNWT Low levels on Athabasca River prompt requests for limited water withdrawals by industry By MEAGAN WOHLBERG With unseasonably low water levels and wildfires raging through Alberta First Na- tions and environmentalists north of Fort McMurray are asking the government to limit water withdrawals by oil companies on the Athabasca River. TheKeepersoftheAthabascaaconservation group focused on protecting the river ecosys- tem say low water levels on the river are neg- atively impacting communities downstream from the oilsands and that further outtakes from the river are exacerbating the problem. Theres a lot of water outtake right now with the fires. I dont think the governments going to limit their outtake so we have the fire water outtake the oilsands water outtake and its like where do the communities fit into this picture said Keepers of the Athabasca coordinator Jesse Cardinal. Alberta Environment and Parks AEP spokespersonLisaGloverconfirmedthatflows ontheAthabascaareaverageorbelowaverage forthistimeofyearwithvariancesamongdif- ferent points on the river. As of 1010 a.m. on May 28 the flow in the Lower Athabasca was 788 cubic metres per second m3sec. Glover said lower levels are consistent with basins across the province. Existingregulationssetlimitsonwaterwith- drawals by mineable oilsands operators from the Lower Athabasca each week of the year in responsetoflowconditions.Gloversaidthereis noadditionalmanagementactionrequiredfor the current week and said actual water usage by industry - at 3.3 m3sec in 2013 - is well below the cumulative water withdrawal limit for this time period which is set at 34 m3sec. But Cardinal said those limits are based on past trends that no longer reflect the uncer- tainty that climate change has imposed on the river and those who use it to travel and hunt. Ten 20 years ago you could easily predict and navigate your way to where you needed to go. The weather patterns were much more predictable so every year you knew the sand- bar was gonna be here and you could map it out and it would be consistent she said. Now the weather patterns are so unpredict- able...theres no real guarantee anymore that they can make their way safely. New limits on water usage have been pro- posed as part of the Surface Water Quantity ManagementFrameworkthatwasintroduced in March and will be implemented this fall. The framework requires the majority of existing operators to stop water withdrawal during low-flow periods and establishes new weekly triggers based on predicted future flow conditionsthattakeintoconsiderationarange of climate change scenarios in order to main- tainanadequate quantity of waterforAborigi- nal river navigation and traditional activities. Should variables deviate significantly from flow and use predictions used to set the limits Glover said those limits would be reviewed and if necessary revised. An important adaptive management indi- cator identified within the framework will rely on community-based monitoring to provide qualitative assessments of river navigability at different times of the year and under vary- ing flow conditions she added. Staff of AEP will be working with First Nations in the near future to further refine the details of this com- munity-based monitoring program. Outtake limits vary among oil companies Under the new framework if weekly flows drop below 87 m3sec Shells Muskeg River andCanadianNaturalResourceLtd.sHorizon projectsarepermittedtowithdraw0.2m3sec while Suncor and Syncrude are permitted to draw a maximum of 2 m3sec. All other opera- torsareprohibitedfromwithdrawinganywater. The reasons for this predetermined allo- cation to Suncor and Syncrude relate largely to operational infrastructure challenges which necessitate retention of a bare mini- mum withdrawal during periods of low flow to prevent freezing Glover said. Cardinal said those allowances are why Aboriginal groups perceive the framework as weak and catered toward industry. Thats really very concerning because were starting to see water crisis situations happening where corporations have access to water before communities do she said. She said the new framework done as part of theLowerAthabascaRegionalPlanLARPdoes not reflect the baselines recommended by Ab- originalgroupsduringtheconsultationprocess. A lot of people were really disappointed because it was kind of a waste of time. Five First Nations pulled out of LARP altogether because theyve been trying to engage with the government on it - at the time the PCs - going to these stakeholder meetings giving their input and at the end of the day seeing nothing was being put in she said. Its just really shocking sometimes. They present their draft and very little in the draft changes. So its like what is the point of that Now the dire forest fire situation adds another layer to the water usage issue said Cardinal who wonders when the interests of primarily First Nations and Mtis communi- ties will be considered. We have a policy based on trends but not on the climate reality that we have today. So with the Alberta government putting laws in place that are allowing corporations to have the first access and the most access to water is really really concerning she said. Navigation affected Though the Alberta government maintains oilsands companies use just one per cent of water from the Athabasca River annually those on the river daily say that usage makes a massive difference when water levels are as low as they are currently. TheAthabascaRiverIdsayrightnowisabout 30percentislands60percentsandbarsand10 per cent water. Theres water on the sandbars but its only two feet deep and these sandbars are huge so its only 10 per cent channel Guy ThackerofFortChipMarineTransporttoldthe JournalfromhisbargeontheAthabascaduring hisfirstrunnorthfromFortMcMurraylastweek. According to a 2007 report by the Univer- sity of Alberta industry requires the same amount of water as a city of two million each year to produce one million barrels of oil per day. Current production in the Athabasca oil- sands is around 1.3 million barrels per day. By 2015 that number could double. So just do the math however many barrels the oil plants produce it takes three barrels of water to make a barrel of oil. Theres only 10 per cent water and theyre all still sucking Thacker said. Some of these intake hoses one of them - Kearl Lake - the pipes six feet in di- ameter. Thats just that oil plant. Theyve all got their own intake hoses. Theyre greedy. ThoughThackersaidheshavingnodifficulty readingtheriverduetohis13yearsexperience bargingontheAthabascahesaidthesandbars willcauseproblemsforsmallerboatswhocant seethemfromaboveandareultimatelyaffect- inghis business.Lastyearhehadto stopbarg- ingbyJuly15-notevenhalfwayintohisseason -becausetherewasnoraintokeeptheriverhigh after the flood from mountain runoff. I believe these oil plants and the govern- ment are affecting my livelihood to make it up and down the river. In the past there were big- ger boats and more barges up and down the river just constantly. Now everybodys stealing water cities are bigger and everything like that too.Everybodyssuckingwateroutoftheriver he said. The glaciers are fading out and disap- pearing. Once theyre gone if theres no rain theresnothingtofeedthisriverinthesummer. Further north he said water levels are just as concerning. Thacker barges from Fort ChipewyantoFitzgeraldAlta.abovetherapid corridorontheSlaveRiver.Hesaidtheresonly aboutsixfeetbetweenhisboatandthebedrock at two key points on the river right now and if the Site C dam in northern B.C. is built on the Peace River that will worsen. Once they build this new dam and its com- plete and they fill their reservoir I dont even know if Ill be able to make it down there he said.ItsgoingtodropLakeAthabascaandthe PeaceRiversubstantiallyagainforsureanother three or four feet its going to go down. When theybuilttheBennettDamthatdroppedLake Guy Thackers barge navigates a narrow channel created by a sandbar on the Athabasca River during his first trip north from Fort McMurray last Thursday. Thacker said the river is low right now littered with sandbars that impede navigation. PhotoGuyThacker