Dr. Swann in Question Period on Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains – 09 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the minister of environment. The water for life strategy has three main goals: safe, secure water; healthy aquatic ecosystems; a reliable, quality water supply. Gravel extraction in watercourses continues to threaten as flood plains are crucial for long-term protection of our water and flood mitigation efforts, yet this government continues to allow the PC-era policy of continued activity in flood plains. To the minister: why hasn’t the law changed since you took office? Why do you still allow gravel extraction in flood plains?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Environment and Parks and climate renewal.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the hon. member for the question. He’s quite right that the water for life strategy involves monitoring. It involves clean drinking water. It also involves public education. It also involves compliance and enforcement. We’re very committed to all of those elements of the water for life strategy. As for the particular matter that the hon. member raises, I can assure him that the department is reviewing the matter of gravel extraction and will have more to say about that. Thank you.

Dr. Swann: Well, the conflict is that the Municipal Government Act allows municipal governments authority over water within their boundaries. The Environmental Law Centre said recently that they have a lack of capacity to assess risk, measure cumulative impacts, and protect habitat, recognizing ecological function of the flood plains. Alberta Environment and Parks does have the necessary expertise and is responsible for protecting all surface water, including flood plains. To the minister: when will the minister make water the priority and enforce the ministry’s standards?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. There is no question that years of underfunding the environment department and the operations division in particular under the previous government led to a situation where we have a number of cases in which we simply don’t have enough resources to do the job. That is why we have increased our resources by reallocating within the department – we’ve had this conversation at estimates as well – to ensure safe drinking water, to ensure habitat, and to ensure that Alberta’s water resources are there for environmental, social, and economic reasons. That is why the department is looking at its options . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister. Second supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thanks, Mr. Speaker. Last week I met with members of the watershed planning and advisory committee for the confluence of the Red Deer and Medicine rivers and viewed the 120 acres, productive farmland, in the river flood plain that are going to be turned into another gravel bed. They’re dissatisfied with the lack of transparency in the approval process and the inability to appeal decisions, meaning that finances trump environmental concerns. However, the proposal still needs to be ratified by this province. To the minister: will you commit now to protect these communities and the environment and do a proper cumulative impact assessment before this goes ahead?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to thank the hon. member for his engagement on this topic for the benefit and health of all Albertans. It’s not just on this particular topic, but his history of working on environmental issues is to be commended and in this case as well. I am pleased that he has interacted and engaged with the WPAC in question. I am pleased that he has raised this matter for us. We will ensure that all of the appropriate protocols are followed and that we take a conservation and stewardship ethic approach as we consider this matter of that particular extraction. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.