Minister reassures Alta. producers over water licences

One producer is not satisfied with response and is continuing his appeal of earlier decision to close his water licences

Confusion over the status of farmers’ and ranchers’ water licences in southern Alberta continues to simmer, prompting a response from the environment minister last week.

Alberta Environment is reviewing more than 1,000 water licences in the South Saskatchewan River watershed region, some of them long standing. The review raised fears about potential licence cancellation, which would jeopardize the future of some farm and ranch operations.

“First, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that not a single rancher in Alberta is going to be stripped of their water access,” Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said in a statement Feb. 23.

“Department officials, in their work to address some legacy issues around modernizing water licences, incorrectly closed applications from a small number of producers who needed to provide some additional information in modernizing their licences. We are now working to correct this error.”

About 30 licences were closed, according to the department.

Phillips said she has directed her staff to meet with every rancher who has water licence issues and ensure they have access to the water they need for their operations.

Milk River area rancher Aaron Brower is among those whose water licences were questioned and then closed. He met with department officials in Lethbridge in January but was unable to determine the reasons.

He then filed an appeal through the Alberta Environment Appeals Board, which is scheduled to be heard March 13.

Brower said Feb. 26 that the minister’s statement has not resolved the issue for him.

“On my end there’s been no resolution as of yet,” he said, and he has not withdrawn his appeal.

Brower said that since he went public with his situation, several other ranchers told him they also received letters and are worried about their licence status and their options.

Some were from outside the Milk River region, Brower said, indicating the licence review is southern Alberta wide. Some of those letters were sent after his initial notice, which he received in December 2017.

Generally people have 30 days to appeal such decisions, according to lawyer Keith Wilson, who has extensive experience in water and property rights issues.

In her statement, Phillips made specific reference to the Milk River Basin, where dry conditions last year put a strain on that watershed in particular.

“With regard to historic water issues in the Milk River Basin, there is no question that careful planning is needed,” said Phillips.

“We are not talking about legislation in any form. As government explores solutions, we will work in partnership with farmers, ranchers, municipalities, and all Albertans who rely on this source of water.”

Ranchers who received letters about closure of their water licence applications should call the minister’s office at 1-780-427-2391 for assistance, Phillips said.

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