Tell the Alberta and Canadian Governments to ensure Treaty rights are protected by ensuring Indigenous Baseline Water Flow needs are upheld within an Athabasca River water policy!
A long overdue report released December 9th titled 'As Long as the Rivers Flow: Athabasca River Knowledge, Use and Change' outlines how Treaty rights for the Indigenous people of the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree Nations have been undermined by increasingly low water quality and quantity within the Athabasca river. It points out concerns with the impacts of climate change and industrial development along the river, and makes specific requests with regards to water use and future tar sands development.
The report requests that water management plans for the river must assess the impacts on Treaty Rights and incorporate any rights- based recommendations including an Aboriginal Baseline Flow (ABF) and Aboriginal Extreme Flow (AXF) to guide management of oil sands-related water withdrawals from the Athabasca River. The report identified an initial ABF of approximately 1600 cubic meters of water (m3/s) and an AXF of 400 m3/s, subject to further monitoring and refinement.
At the moment the suggested in-stream extreme water flows for the Athabasca river is only 87m3/s - an amount more than 4 times lower than required by Indigenous people in the region.
The Athabasca river has seen decreasing water quantity and quality over the past 30+ years. The river is directly impacted by a massive hydro project, pulp and paper mills and the largest industrial project on the planet - the Tar Sands.
Low river flows not only inhibit the ability of people to travel on the rivers, but also contribute to a lower quality of water as concentration of pollutants increase, directly impacting the drinking water needed for plants, animals and people living in the region. Water allocations for the tar sands mining and insitu operations account from 76% of the water extracted from the Athabasca River each year. Plans for expansion will see the demand for water increase by more than 50%. Together, the planned and existing tar sands projects are expected to withdraw 529 million cubic metres of water from the Athabasca annually, more water than is used each year by the City of Toronto, which has a population greater than 2,500,000.
The time is now for action to ensure Treaty Rights are protected and that a high level of water is ensured for the health of the Athabasca river and ecosystems!
At present in the Athabasca River there are no protections or prioritization of water rights for the ecosystem, Treaty Rights or local community needs before that of the burgeoning industrial interests in the area. Any development of a water management framework provides an opportunity to ensure protections and prioritizations of water rights are made. In a region with increasing water scarcity and the largest industrial project on the planet, we can afford nothing less!