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LETTER: Water is more important than coal

"Reinstating the 1976 coal policy which protected much of the Eastern Slopes is not enough."

I read with interest Ken Allred's commentary ("Ole King Coal," Feb. 3 Gazette).

He states that "energy is a mainstay of Alberta's economy". And so it has been for many years – coal, and oil and gas.  The UCP government has certainly pushed the agenda where these resources are concerned: they have done little to push the forward-looking agenda of solar, wind and geothermal energy. In the Peoples' Climate Vote, Jan. 27, 2021, which was the largest climate warming public opinion poll ever conducted (56 per cent of the world's population), 64 per cent of the respondents said climate change was a global emergency! Yet, the Alberta government continues down the path of bygone development strategies. Strip mining the Eastern Slopes for supposed job creation is old thinking, taking the easy way out, willing to pollute and destroy a region all Albertans hold dear. Clearer thinking would be providing resources to promote tourism, secondary agricultural industries, and alternate energy sources, like green and blue hydrogen. Cities like Lethbridge with its burgeoning vegetable and brewery industries, and Sturgeon County with its push to develop a hydrogen industry within its borders, are examples of what can be done with progressive, forward thinking. The Alberta government needs to get in step with the times, not to be dawdling in the past.

The Eastern Slopes provide all the water needs of people, cities, towns, counties, municipal districts, industry, agriculture in Southern, Central and Northern Alberta; moreover, through an agreement, known as the Inter Governmental Agreement, 50 per cent of the natural flow of water out of the Rockies is to be maintained for Saskatchewan. This agreement is not only to do with water quantity, but water quality. This should be the number one priority of every Albertan and the UCP government to ensure that the Eastern Slopes remain the safe and stable resource for our precious water.  The Prairie provinces are not a water-rich environment. Every ounce of water is used and should be valued beyond the supposed economic value of a few mining jobs and paltry royalties. Several foreign mining companies seeking and obtaining leases in the Eastern Slopes pay $3.50 per hectare for the right to pollute and use our water. The only winners here are the Australian mining companies and the Far East procurers of this metallurgical coal. The great losers will be Albertans faced with less water, polluted water and destruction of our beautiful Rocky Mountains and foothills.

If anyone is unfamiliar with strip mining/mountaintop mining, the procedures for obtaining coal through this process will mean the companies totally upend the most important, unique ecosystem in Alberta for storing water: firstly, by taking off the vegetation, then the rock overburden to obtain access to the coal seams. Then they will use great amounts of water in their operations to wash the coal, etc., before shipping it to offshore companies. The Eastern Slopes act like a percolator for our yearly snowpack and rainwater, releasing it slowly through the layers of vegetation into the tiny streamlets that become the Prairie rivers. This system will be destroyed: snow and rain will flush through the exposed overburden which contain minerals such as selenium, into the streams and rivers as they travel eastward. Selenium is a poison to humans, and animals. There is no way to rid water of it once it is there! Is this what we want for our water, for our children, for us?

All Albertans need to be concerned and outraged by the stance the Alberta government has taken on this issue.  Reinstating the 1976 coal policy which protected much of the Eastern Slopes is not enough. They need to stop work on all coal leases in the Eastern Slopes. Water is the most important resource in the Eastern Slopes, not coal!

Barbara Collier, St. Albert

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