Thousands of people depend on the water below Alberta’s oilsands region, but the effects of industrial development on those water tables is not yet fully understood, a new report says.
The Cumulative Environmental Management Association released a 37-page report Tuesday that explains groundwater in the region, and warns that lower water levels and poor quality could have “far-reaching consequences.”
“The cumulative effects of mining and in-situ operations on regional groundwater are not fully understood, so more data are needed … to understand the quality and supply status of groundwater,” the report says.
Changes in groundwater “may be a concern for fish and fish habitat, wildlife, and water supply needs for a range of local uses,” the report says, adding that “the potential effects of lower water levels and poor water health on the harvest of traditional resources could have far-reaching consequences on the health, culture, and social and economic well-being of First Nations and Métis communities.”
Roughly 80 per cent of the CEMA’s funding comes from industry, with the remainder from government. Tuesday’s report and accompanying video cost nearly $25,000 to produce.
Dustin Shauer is the co-char of CEMA’s groundwater working group and a hydrogeologist at Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. He said Tuesday’s report is the first in a series to examine groundwater. The next step is a multi-year, $320,000 project to investigate the interactions between rivers and streams and the groundwater that feeds them.
The working group will identify places where locals access water and recommend those locations for monitoring.
“Just getting the data is the most important, the first step,” Shauer said. “Hopefully five, 10 and 15 years from now we will at least understand what changes have occurred and whether they’re natural, based on development, or a combination of the two.”