Top 5 Alberta water stories in 2013
What were the main stories last year involving this most vital of resources?
by Tim Querengesser
- The flood
Calgary and High River got all the media attention but the flood of 2013 affected large swaths of southern Alberta, rewriting public policy on settlement in floodplains, costing the provincial economy an estimated $6 billion (and growing), and nearly completely decimating the Siksika First Nation community.
- The Cold Lake spill
In situ bitumen extraction was supposed to hail the promise of wealth from Alberta’s oil bounty without the water drawbacks associated with surface mining, like tailings ponds. But the Cold Lake spill has been a slow-bleeding repose to that sentiment, spilling some 10,000 barrels of sticky bitumen over the last six-plus months, polluting groundwater, killing wildlife and confounding those who’ve tried to plug it. That the Cold Lake First Nations is livid is the unfortunate icing on the cake.
- The (really) big spill
It’s a spill into the Athabasca River – which doesn’t stay within Alberta’s borders but instead flows north into the Northwest Territories and the Arctic Ocean – that boggles belief. One billion litres, or 400 Olympic swimming pools, of contaminated water was spewed into the Athabasca watershed by the Obed coal mine when a retaining wall collapsed.
- Algae on the Athabasca?
For a tense week, there was debate in the press amongst the players about what the oily, dark sheen on the Athabasca River was. Then tests confirmed what the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation had discovered wasn’t an oil spill but instead algae. Still, the algae bloom was unprecedented, which is concerning, and the First Nation discovered it, rather than Alberta’s provincial water monitoring, illustrating some worrying gaps.
- Oil Sands monitoring agency
It wasn’t directly tied to water, but it was when you think about it. In October, Alberta announced it would create an arms-length oil sands monitoring agency. The agency will be chaired by Howard Tennant, former head of the University of Lethbridge, and it will be, from all signs , something of a thorn in the side of both industry and the government itself. Since water is often the recipient of the oil sands’s errors, the agency will be watching closely.