Environment Canada Releases Water Quality Monitoring Plan For Lower Athabasca

Via: Air Water Land

Environment Canada releases its proposed strategy for the heart of the oilsands
By Elsie Ross

A new surface water quality monitoring program for the Lower Athabasca River in the heart of Alberta’s largest oilsands region released in March by federal Environment Minister Peter Kent will be incorporated into the work of a revamped provincial monitoring program, says the province’s environment minister.

“Although this work is a good starting point, physical monitoring of water is only one piece of the overall system needed,” Rob Renner says. “We need to build on this plan to develop a system that is robust, verifiable, transparent and governed appropriately. Most importantly, it must be credible, which is exactly what Alberta’s independent provincial monitoring panel is working on.”

The panel, co-chaired by Hal Kvisle, former president and chief executive officer of TransCanada Corporation, and Howard Tennant, former University of Lethbridge president and vice-chancellor, is to report back to Renner with initial recommendations in June on developing a world-class monitoring system.

“This plan is the first step towards an improved surface water–monitoring program,” says Kent. “This will take time, but we are on track and are committed to getting it right. Our monitoring, research and other actions rise to the challenge of protecting the environment and ensuring the responsible development of the oilsands.”

Kent says that the development of the oilsands is key to Canada’s economic prosperity and energy security.

“Developing this important resource can be done in an environmentally responsible manner, provided that science and technological innovation are brought to bear on the issue. We are confident that we can protect the environment while seeing the economic benefits of the oilsands.”

Created in collaboration with Alberta, the federal scientific plan is in response to the report of the federal oilsands advisory panel, which was struck in September 2010 to review the environmental monitoring systems of the Athabasca River Basin. In its report, the advisory panel called for the development of a scientifically credible water-monitoring system that will provide assurance to Canadians about the environmental performance of the oilsands industry. The panel noted that Environment Canada, as a trusted science organization, is well equipped to lead in the design, implementation and scientific oversight of such a monitoring system.

Following the release of the report in December, John Baird, acting environment minister, appointed a scientific team to come up with a water-monitoring report within 90 days.

The Lower Athabasca water-quality monitoring program plan highlights the need for water-quality measurements to be taken more frequently, and in more places, which will ensure there is sufficient data available to track possible changes, says Kent. It also emphasizes the need for the monitoring program to be linked to other monitoring systems, such as air quality and biodiversity, to ensure a holistic view of environmental quality and work is already underway in those areas.

The plan will promote the use of an approach designed to allow for the continuous improvement of monitoring and data interpretation. In order to monitor long-term changes and maintain environmental quality within defined levels, it will assess the cumulative effects of oilsands activities.

The plan also promotes transparency, and all data will be publicly available.

The first phase of the plan deals with surface water­–quality monitoring in the main stem of the Athabasca River and its major tributaries between Fort McMurray, Alta., and the Wood Buffalo National Park boundary, and focuses on the physical and chemical attributes of water quality.

At present, both the provincial and federal governments currently monitor water quality in the Lower Athabasca, industry monitors water as a condition to operate and there is additional monitoring by the industry-funded Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program, the plan notes. However, it says there is a lack of integration and several recent reports found the current monitoring system did not deliver data of sufficient quality or quantity to detect or quantify the effects of oilsands development.

Read the rest of the press release

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