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Letting ski resort sell mountain water from park is risky: environmentalists

Tourists explore the resort in Kananaskis, Alta., Monday, April 25, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh.
Tourists explore the resort in Kananaskis, Alta., Monday, April 25, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh.

Alberta’s decision to allow a ski hill in a provincial park to sell water it’s not using and have it trucked away sets a bad precedent that could restrict the province’s ability to react to climate change, environmentalists say.

“If we’re reallocating more and more water for commercial sale, that really ties up our choices and future generation’s choices,” Carolyn Campbell of the Alberta Wilderness Association said Friday.

In October, Alberta Environment approved an application from Fortress Mountain ski resort in Spray Valley Provincial Park — part of vast and popular mountain playground called Kananaskis Country — to change its water licence.

READ MORE: Early season snowfall a blessing for ski hills, Calgary businesses

In the past, the resort was allocated just under 100 million litres of water a year from Galatea Creek for its kitchen and other on-site facilities.

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The government agreed to amend that licence Oct. 25 to allow it to sell about half that amount to a third party. The water is to be pumped into trucks and driven away for sale.

Published reports have suggested it will be bottled and marketed as pure, glacier-fed water.

READ MORE: Large area of Kananaskis Country closed after bear ‘made contact with hiker’

Campbell acknowledges 50 million litres is a small amount of water in the context of the Bow Valley watershed, which cities such as Calgary depend on.

But she’s concerned that allowing Fortress to sell water originally intended for local use could open the door for other companies to do the same.

“Now, does everybody who isn’t using every drop of their water upstream of Calgary get to sell it?” she asks.

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Issuing water sale permits will make it harder for governments to manage water supply, she said — especially as climate change alters the region’s hydrology.

The Geological Survey of Canada has already warned that the Rocky Mountain glaciers that keep prairie rivers and streams full during low-snow years are on their way out.

“Every drop counts for the future given even natural variation without climate change,” Campbell said. “You layer climate change, it’s just a very concerning precedent for our mountain headwaters.

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“Mountain ecosystems use every drop of water. It’s better to leave it in the stream rather that try to commodify it from a protected area.”

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Fortress Mountain did not immediately return an emailed request for an interview.

Alberta Environment acknowledged it received concerns about Fortress’ application. All were dismissed, said press secretary Jess Sinclair.

“None of those who filed were found to be directly affected,” she said in an email. “None of the statements of concern filed were found to be valid.”

The department did not provide an interview.