Dr. Swann in Question Period on Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains – 20 April 2017

Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, as a Liberal you might expect me to be asking some questions about marijuana today, but instead of weed I want to talk about rocks and water. Like human lungs, alluvial aquifers around rivers and streams are essential for exchanging surface water and groundwater, but gravel extraction in our flood plains is threatening to choke out our vital water supply. To be blunt, Alberta has the largest scale gravel extraction in the country.

The Speaker: Hon. member, I think your time has lapsed.

Dr. Swann: Impossible. Impossible.

The Speaker: I’m sure that the minister . . . [interjection] Hon. member, I think you need to sit down. What a wonderful day in the neighbourhood. I’m not sure if there was a question in there. The Minister of Environment and Parks.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. I share the hon. member’s concern about, of course, water quality and gravel extraction, as we all do. We all want to make sure that safe drinking water and riparian habitat are appropriately maintained in this province. That’s why, for example, we’ve invested in more river and stream monitoring as part of our consolidation of monitoring in the province, and we’re working with the Sand and Gravel Association and the municipalities on these matters of gravel extraction, ensuring they’re done in the best way possible.

Dr. Swann: Well, to the contrary, Mr. Speaker, it’s clear that there’s a potential for permanent environmental damage when we continue to allow gravel extraction in flood plains. I’ll be tabling photographs from all over Alberta later today. The Minister of Environment and Parks has taken action on science-based evidence in the Castle, so I’m sure that there’s a commitment to using science to make better decisions. Why is science enough to restrict industry activity in the Castle but not in flood plains? Why the double standard?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the hon. member for the question. Certainly, our department along with Municipal Affairs is working with the Sand and Gravel Association and other stakeholders to ensure that sand and gravel and all aggregate extraction is done in ways that protect our air, land, and water. Certainly, the Sand and Gravel Association has been a good partner to us in that. In many cases we work on a case-by-case basis with the affected municipalities to make sure that we’re upholding the highest standards.

Dr. Swann: The fact is, Mr. Speaker, that the Sand and Gravel Association has a very cozy relationship with municipalities and Municipal Affairs, and they’re the ones financially benefiting from the developments on flood plains. Allowing them to police is like asking a pot user to guard the brownies. What’s needed is for the environment minister to remove the temptation and protect our water. When will you take real action and institute a total ban on gravel extraction in flood plains?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the hon. member for the question. We will certainly take his views under advisement as we speak to communities who have concerns about flood plains gravel and other aggregate extraction. We’re always looking for a productive conversation with the communities that are affected by these projects. Thank you.