As such, the effects of allowing coal companies to draw water from smaller streams in the headwater aren’t known.
Benga has 10 hydrometric stations in place, which have been measuring water flow at Gold and Blairmore creeks for the past several years. The company also states operations will reduce Gold Creek’s flow by only about 10 per cent, which is within environmental limits.
Although data is being gathered, scientifically accurate measurements on flow must allow for the wide swing in variation creeks experience. The typical standard is 30 years worth of data — a difficult mark to reach, considering the limited personnel and resources available.
“We’re challenged right now because the data on allocations isn’t done at that small of scale usually,” Ms. Ambrose says. “I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any removal of water — I think we just have to make sure that the water we do take, relative to that place, is acceptable.”
Solid data is doubly important, Ms. Frank adds, given the location of many of the proposed mines in the Oldman’s watershed.
“That’s one thing we have been asking for before we withdraw water from any of these headwater streams,” she says. “That would tell us how much we could withdraw without having a big impact.”
Issues surrounding climate change, such as earlier snow melts and declining summer flows, also mean future conditions should be accounted for. Such foresight is especially important for Gold Creek, which is home to one of the last remaining Alberta populations of westslope cutthroat trout.Not water under the bridge yet
Although the government says altering the allocation would attract new industrial investment to the area, prospective coal mines would be first to benefit.
With water use upstream from the reservoir not as taxed as farther east, the minimal amount of flow data for the smaller headwater creeks and streams the mines would affect raises questions about local environmental stewardship — along with other water-related issues, such as pollution and treatment.
For now, further information about the changes is on hold as public consultation will resume after the province establishes its new modern coal policy, prompted by the reinstatement of the 1976 coal policy.
Current water licences can be viewed online www.alberta.ca/alberta-water-licence-viewer.aspx
. Public consultation is set to begin March 29.https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/02/24/proposed-water-allocation-changes-cause-local-turbulence.html