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Wednesday, 23 October 2013 14:19

Draft South Sask. Plan void of innovation

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The Alberta government’s second regional land-use plan is revealing a template of conserving only land that no one else wants, setting a business-as-usual approach and continuing with existing industry practices.

On. Oct. 10, the government released its draft South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, known as the SSRP. It will shape the province’s approach toward land and water use for Alberta’s southern-most region, including Calgary, which jointly comprises 12.6 per cent of the province’s land mass and 40 per cent of its population.
Ideally, these land-use frameworks are supposed to strike a balance between Alberta’s economic, social and environmental interests, but this particular plan only accomplishes to further entrench the status quo. There are no big leaps, no “Oh my God” moments, and no impression that this province will be left in a better shape.
One example of this is the eastern slopes area, along the northern border of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta’s southwestern corner. The land-use plan calls for creating the Castle Wildland Provincial Park and the Castle Conservation Area. The main difference between the two: the provincial park covers the mountain tops, while the so-called “conservation areas” are the mountain valleys, where commercial forestry will be permitted.
This is great for avid climbers, but not for the average Albertan. Even the government admits in the plan that commercial forestry operations aren’t considered compatible with the “management intent” of the region’s only conservation area, and yet it will be allowed.
This is concerning because this area is a riverhead for the Castle River, where surrounding trees act as a reservoir. If the trees get cut, there’s little holding rainwater back from going into the river en masse, thus being a step backward on flood mitigation.
This isn’t the first land use plan where the government used a business-as-usual template, as was the case in northern Alberta with the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan: nearly all the preserved land was what industry didn’t want anyway. In both plans, any serious conservation efforts are restricted to areas that have no chance of industry. This will likely be the case for the province’s five remaining regional land-use plans.
The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan also fails to properly build upon existing efforts toward water scarcity, a growing problem for southern Alberta. Although the government’s Water for Life strategy is a good strategy, and is being relied upon for this land use plan, it’s 10 years old. There seems to be little appetite to update and innovate the current strategies that we have.
In fact, in the section regarding integrated watershed management, four of the eight bullets start with the word “continue,” while three others start with “encourage.”
It’s nothing exactly ground-breaking, which is what’s needed, given continued scarcity concerns along the South Saskatchewan River.
Similarly, the government still can’t quantify cumulative impacts on water, air and land in the region because the baseline to compare data appears to be now, instead of some period in the past. Also striking is the plan’s sole paragraph that references hydraulic fracturing: it approaches the controversial issue in an academic way, but mentions nothing in the way of banning it or having strict criteria.
The province failed to take a leap forward. It should know better. Water should be designated a public good, meaning that possibilities of phasing out certain activities in conservation areas, such as commercial uses, should be on the table.
The government seems to assume that everything’s going to remain the same, that if business is there now, then no matter what it is, it’s going to continue. That isn’t the leadership needed.
Laurie Blakeman, Liberal MLA, Edmonton-Centre

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