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Oil sands water plans don’t account for low flows: study

U of Regina researcher says current government-set levels were set using data from the last 50 or so years.


September 22, 2015
by The Canadian Press

REGINA — A new study warns that the rules governing how much water the oil sands can take from the Athabasca River don’t account for how low flows can get in the crucial waterway.

Study author David Sauchyn of the University of Regina says those levels have been set using data from the last 50 or so years.

But he analyzed tree rings going back 900 years to show the Athabasca has been through long periods of much lower flows than have been seen over that short time.

Sauchyn says those natural low-flow periods will eventually return, made worse through the added effects of climate change.

It’s the second recent paper that questions how industry and government set levels for water withdrawals in the river.

In August, Alberta’s energy regulator suspended 73 temporary water withdrawal licences from the Athabasca when flows dropped to about 43% below average.

Sauchyn says water planners have to start looking longer term when allocating water, not only for the Athabasca but other rivers as well.

Find a copy of Sauchyn’s report here.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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