Thursday, 08 February 2018 09:31

AEP letters regarding water licences creates issues for Alta.

Written by  Jamie Rieger
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Aaron Brower Aaron Brower

Farmers and ranchers with water licences should check their mail to see if they have received a letter from Alberta Environment and Parks indicating that their licences are being reviewed.


Letters sent out right before Christmas indicated that water licence applications from 2001 and earlier were not complete and further information was being requested to complete the process or even that the file was being closed.
When the Alberta Water Act was enacted in 1996 it included provisions for farmers and ranchers to continue their traditional use of water, but needed to apply to bring their licences up-to-date and current with the new regulatory framework and this needed to be done before Dec. 31, 2001.
The issue that is arising is the letter suggests that the landowner can reapply for a new licence, but Sec. 73 (4)(d) of the legislation states that the right to apply expired on Dec. 31, 2001.
Attorney Keith Wilson, who is representing a landowner who is currently appealing the decision by AEP to close his file (and water licence), said the situation is troubling.
"This is serious stuff. A rancher can't run a ranch without water. The concern is that a lot of ranchers don't even know that the reality is you can't re-apply," said Wilson. "When the first Water Act was introduced in the 90s, the first version was terrible and didn't recognize some of these water licences. Then, expressed provisions were put in to recognize them. Now, what they are doing is preventing ranchers from acquiring the water licences."
What is not indicated in the letter that was sent out by AEP — but is in the legislation —is that people have 30 days to respond.
Southeast Alberta rancher Aaron Brower is one of the recipients who received the letter, dated Dec. 20, 2017, which he received on Dec. 27.
"This file sat there for 16 years and mine isn't the only one. When you take the legislation and lay it over this letter, you have 30 days to respond, then you're out of luck," said Brower. "Closing files without consultation is very heavy handed and arbitrary."
One of the wells in question on the Brower ranch was dug by the Northwest Mounted Police in 1910 and has been a part of the family operation for a century.
After facing one roadblock after another in trying to discuss the matter with the AEP Lethbridge office and with Edmonton, Brower sought legal council and the file was submitted to the Alberta Environment Appeal Board for review.
"The problem I have is that they didn't want to have conversation with me so I have to take the other route," said Brower. "There is supposedly exemptions for stock water application and household and that is what this water is for. All the water that is the heart of my operation is part of this conversation. Water for pastures will no longer be usable and will put me out of business. If there's a problem, I will be there to have a conversation. At the end of the day, if it will affect my business. These waters are traditional waters and I am wondering if I will have anything left by the time they are done."
Wilson is advising recipients of the AEP letter to seek legal council and to contact their local MLA for political intervention. (To see the correspondence, go to http://albertagrazinglease.ca/)
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes is aware of the situation and encourages people to contact his office if they have received a letter from AEP suggesting their water application files are being closed  without due process.
"First, property rights. By doing this, a family's right to raise their livelihood is being challenged by the Government of Alberta. This government continues to over reach," said Barnes. "Second, with this government bureaucracy, how can a licence that was applied for 17 years ago sit dormant and nothing happens with it until now? I have been to the Minister's office to talk about it and now we have a stressful situation on our hands. It's another reminder of why people's property rights need to be protected. I would like to hear from those who are being affected by this."
To contact Barnes on this matter, people can call his Medicine Hat constituency office at 403-528-2191 or call toll-free at 1-866-339-2191. He can also be reached via email at cypress.medicinehat @assembly.ab.ca
(Editor’s note:  representatives of Alta. Environment were contacted, but did not wish to comment on specific questions at this time).

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