WHEREAS the Water for Life Strategy, developed by Alberta Environment, established the following three goals:- a safe, secure drinking water supply- healthy aquatic ecosystems- reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economyand seeks to ensure that all Albertans have access to safe and sustainable water supplies for themselves, their communities, the economy, and the environment; andWHEREAS the Government of Alberta’s Rural Development Strategy recognizes that ‘rural Alberta has vibrant and sustainable communities where rural and urban families, individuals, organizations, businesses and governments are vital contributors to the growth, prosperity, and quality of life of Albertans’, and further that all rural communities, if given the opportunity, can also be vibrant and sustainable.WHEREAS the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada, in support of these two Strategies, have contributed financially to the capital cost of regional waterlines; however in varying degrees, such that user fees vary significantly across the Province, andWHEREAS the supply of potable water (an essential utility) at equitable rates is one of the key elements in the sustainability of rural economies, andWHEREAS the Government of Alberta has historically endorsed the concept of equal rates across Alberta for other essential utilities such as electricity and natural gas;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC request that the Government of Alberta implement the necessary strategy to ensure equitable water rates for all Albertans.
Since the 1960s, rural gas and electricity cooperatives have been serving rural utility consumers with the focus of providing equity to all Albertans relative to the rate structure. In 1973, the Alberta Government established the Rural Gas Program to construct distribution systems and provide funds to gas distributors experiencing higher costs associated with serving sparsely populated rural areas. Not only did the Government finance approximately 60 per cent of the distribution network, it also created Gas Alberta, an agency of Alberta Transportation and Utilities, that aggregated demand and negotiated favorable contracts for small distributors within the province. The result of this government intervention was a supply of natural gas at a reasonable cost and a common unit price (www.gasalberta.com).Before electricity deregulation, the Province’s electrical energy industry was dominated by privately run utility companies. In 1985, due to a growing disparity in the energy prices paid by consumers, the Provincial Government introduced the Electrical Energy and Marketing Agency (EEMA). EEMA’s primary purpose was to standardize the rates all Albertans paid for electricity, and did so by recommending a ‘power pool’ model that would level the playing field across Alberta (www.mapleleafweb.com).More recently, in November of 2003, the Provincial Government announced its contract with Bell Canada to build the Alberta Supernet, which would allow rural and remote communities to develop broadband infrastructure (telecommunication utility). The Government of Alberta provided capital funding to service schools, hospitals, libraries, and government offices with high speed internet technology. Communities and/or service providers across the Province are allowed access to this necessary backbone at an equal rate structure. The cost to access Supernet is not dependant upon location, but only on the amount of bandwidth a community or service provider wishes to access.As can be seen by the above examples, the Government of Alberta has historically ensured equal access to basic infrastructure and province-wide distribution networks that allowed fair and equal access to commodities no matter where one lived within Alberta.In February of 2005, MLAs Doug Griffith and Luke Ouellette wrote and distributed ?A Place to Grow – Alberta’s Rural Development Strategy?, which outlines the Government’s commitment to “adapt and adjust programs and measures to take into account the unique aspects of rural communities”. It cites four pillars of sustainable rural communities, one being “Community capacity, quality of life and infrastructure – ensuring that rural communities have the capacity, the quality of life, and the infrastructure necessary to remain vibrant and attractive places to live, work and visit.”In October of 2005, Alberta Environment, on behalf of the Water For Life initiative, undertook a comprehensive review of the Province’s drinking water systems (‘safe drinking water is vital to human health and to our communities. . .?). With this priority in mind, Alberta Environment made a number of recommendations that would ensure our communities have access to a safe and secure drinking water supply, including but not limited to, the construction of regional waterlines in many rural areas.While no recommendations were made on the management or pricing of water, the Vegreville waterline was cited as an example to be emulated, as follows:”Regional lines like the one from Edmonton to Vegreville serve as a model for the future to promote economic sustainability and reduce risk to human health across Alberta. The line to Vegreville was constructed in the 1980s and services many smaller communities along the way that would have otherwise been short of water and economically constrained. . .” (Report on implementation progress of Water for Life – Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability, October 2005, available at www.waterforlife.gov.ab.ca).The Vegreville waterline was constructed and is managed in much the same way as the local gas and electric utilities were. Grant money was provided to build the necessary infrastructure and a local ?commission? or board is responsible for the bulk purchasing and billing of the commodity. This model has facilitated the sale of water within the region at a competitive price. Other waterlines within the province are managed differently; some being wholly owned by a municipality, others being P3 projects. The price of water varies dramatically from waterline to waterline depending upon the amount of grant funding injected, and in some jurisdictions, water consumption is so expensive that it is not economically feasible to locate a business with high water requirements.In her book ‘Water Wars’, Vandana Shiva outlines nine principles of water democracy, and calls water “a fundamental human right, without which life ceases to exist”. She goes on to ask “How can we pay for the rain?” While it is clear there is a significant financial investment in regional waterline projects and the resultant need for a cost-recovery factor in the pricing of water, there are vastly different rates being charged from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and a management model must be established to level the playing field amongst regions and build the economic sustainability of rural Alberta.It therefore stands to reason that with water distribution networks, the Government of Alberta should consider playing a similar role to that which they played in the development of gas and electrical power services in Alberta, thereby ensuring all Albertans fair and equal access to “a safe and secure drinking water supply.”
The AAMDC has no resolutions currently in effect with respect to this issue.