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Environment File

A local environmental group has called on the province to put a firm limit on withdrawals from the Athabasca River to protect the life within it. The St.

A local environmental group has called on the province to put a firm limit on withdrawals from the Athabasca River to protect the life within it.

The St. Albert branch of the World Wildlife Fund published a report this week that calls for the creation of an ecosystem base flow reserve for the Athabasca River.

The Athabasca is home to 31 of Alberta’s 59 fish species, feeds a delta that houses about a million migratory birds, and supplies the oilsands industry with most of its water.

The province has a temporary plan in place that requires industry to take less water when the Athabasca is low, said Rob Powell, director of WWF’s St. Albert office, but that plan never stops withdrawals completely — companies can legally continue to take water until the river is dry.

An ecosystem base flow would set a cut-off point at which all withdrawals would stop in order to protect fish, animals and people, he said. “It would be an amount of water that’s reserved to preserve the river.” His group suggested setting it at 87 cubic metres per second, a low the river would normally hit once in a hundred years.

While the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the provincial ministerial advisory group on water allocation both support a base flow limit, Powell said, other groups oppose it, as it could potentially cut off oilsands companies from water.

Alberta Environment has yet to commit to a limit, Powell said. “It’s a sensible precaution to protect the river,” he said, one that’s supported by science and the law. “It’s difficult to imagine why we’re not doing this.”

The province is still in talks about a permanent water management plan for the Athabasca, said Jessica Potter of Alberta Environment. “There’s lots of water management ideas available, but no decisions have been made yet.”

The report is available at

Can we turn this old house into this net-zero house?

That’s what Peter Amerongen and his team hope to find out this year in Edmonton. Amerongen, a designer of net-zero homes, is doing a free talk this Wednesday with the Solar Energy Society of Alberta on how to reduce a home’s annual greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

Net-zero homes are homes that produce as much energy as they consume over the course of a year, meaning they produce an average of zero greenhouse gas emissions. There are about five in the Capital region.

Amerongen has done a number of talks on new net-zero homes, and said he keeps getting the same question: new homes are great, but how can I fix my current one?

“About 85 per cent of the homes we’re going to be heating in 2050 are already built,” said Amerongen. If we want to reduce our energy use in homes, this means we’ll have to do a lot of renovations, he said.

Amerongen and his team plan to do a net-zero renovation on a house in Edmonton, and will present their plans during a talk at Grant MacEwan University next week.

“It’s already expensive to upgrade a potential new building to net-zero,” Amerongen said. “It’s even more expensive to do this on a retrofit.” Existing homes have energy-wasting features built into them that a renovator has to work around. You can’t make a wall thicker to add more insulation, for example; you have to build a second wall around it.

“Not every home is going to be able to meet net-zero,” he added; some may be shaded, for example, meaning they can’t get the heat they need from the sun.

The talk starts at 7 p.m. this Jan. 26 in Room 5-142. Visit for details.