This history celebrates the sesquicentennial of Confederation of Canada’s first provinces in 1867. Work on this project was made possible by a grant from the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
This book is about the water and water systems within the province of Alberta. It is therefore about the basis of life and livelihood within this little piece of Canada, which is part of a small planet in a small solar system in a small galaxy in an incomprehensibly large universe.
The place to begin is with the thought that perhaps 98% of the water on the planet is poisonous to landlubbers. You can’t drink water straight from the seas and oceans. Yet, as the graphic illustrates, the remarkable climate on our planet has rendered that problem soluble.
According to hydrologist S.K. Gupta, there are 1,386 million cubic kilometres (km3) of water on the planet. A cubic kilometre of water equals one trillion litres, so once you start doing the math, the volumes quickly become mind-boggling.
“Of the freshwater on Earth, much more is stored in the ground than is available in lakes and rivers,” he continues. “More than 8,400,000 km3 of freshwater is stored in the Earth, most within one-half mile of the surface. But, if you really want to find freshwater, the most is stored in the 29,200,000 km3 of water found in glaciers and icecaps, mainly in the Polar Regions and in Greenland.”
In his book about water,[*] a former Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Grant McEwan (1902-2000), offers an excellent introduction to the hydrological cycle.
“Water should inspire sweet songs of praise as the Earth’s circulating masterpiece,” he wrote. “Call it what you like – the hydrological cycle, or simply Nature’s mighty water wheel – it is the biggest cleanup show on earth.” It plays out in the “clouds, fields, streams and lakes” and “deep beneath the surface of the planet” in countless aquifers. These systems provide water for agriculture, drinking and household use. The water in lakes and rivers plays important roles in urban consumption and power generation, and has endless industrial applications.
The movement of water within the hydrological cycle can take many different routes. Rain falling upon the ocean quickly becomes salty. But then some of its molecules begin to evaporate into the atmosphere to meet the cycle’s later needs. The molecules rising from the ocean leave behind the complex materials of the saltwater. By volume, the dissolved materials in the ocean are mostly salts.
Water is a polar molecule. It consists of two hydrogen atoms attached to a central oxygen atom at an angle, as illustrated. The oxygen atom is highly electronegative, a physical property that enables it to attract bonded electron pairs towards itself. When oxygen bonds with water, it gains a partial negative charge, and confers upon the hydrogen atoms a partial positive charge. The partial charges in a water molecule interact with other molecules that are charged, in the following way.
When added to water, ionic molecules – those which have a net positive or negative electrical charge because the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons – split into positive and negative ions. The positive ions are surrounded by the oxygen atoms of the water molecules, since they have a partial negative charge. By contrast, the negative ions find themselves attracted to water’s partially positive hydrogen atoms. Since each ion is surrounded by water molecules, the ions are said to be hydrated and remain separated from one another. With its ions completely dispersed in water, the substance is part of a water solution. Similarly, polar substances are made of molecules that interact with one another through dipole interactions. If you add a polar compound to water, two things happen: Its positive elements combine with the negative atoms of oxygen in the water molecules, while its negative elements combine with the positive hydrogen atoms. When the water completely surrounds the polar substance, we say it has dissolved.
Strangely, though, from the point of view of quantum mechanics, the most important scientific theory of the twentieth century, how water molecules form hydrogen bonds with their neighbours is “to create the magical properties of that vital liquid” is itself a “mystery,” writes CalTech physicist Leonard Mlodinow.
The world’s water originated with the planet itself, which coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago out of the remnants of a “big bang.” Astrophysicists have calculated that our universe exploded into existence out of a “singularity” some 13.7 billion years ago.
“Most, if not all, the water on the surface of the Earth at this time came from the rocks and ice that had coalesced to form in the first place. But the early planet had trouble keeping hold of these water molecules. Without a fully developed atmosphere, they would have escaped the Earth and boiled off into space,” wrote Alok Jha.
“Once the planet’s mass was largely in place, the atmosphere stabilised. All the while, water was being pushed to the surface by the colossal geological processes that gave Earth its internal structure. Heavy elements like iron largely flowed to the centre, and the distinct layers of crust, mantle and core we see today began to form. Water and other volatile compounds from the rocks were driven upwards as the mantle cooled. Volcanoes and other fissures in the crust allowed superheated water vapour to escape into the atmosphere.
“Despite the high temperatures on the Earth’s surface – more than 200°C – pools of liquid water are thought to have existed there are those first 100 million years, thanks to the immense pressure of an atmosphere, which was rich in nitrogen, water vapour and carbon dioxide. A few hundred million years after the birth of our planet, the atmospheric pressure had dropped (thanks to following carbon dioxide levels), and the temperature had dropped to (for the same reason). Now the Earth was cool enough for liquid water to stay put. At this point, somewhere around 4 billion years ago, the water vapour in the air began to condense out and it rained. And rained. Possibly for millennia.”
It is important to understand that oxygen and hydrogen both are extremely active in a chemical sense, but once they form chemical bonds those bonds are hard to break. Almost all of the water on earth today has been on the planet for eons. Water is such a stable atom that much of the water we drink today nourished microbes when they first appeared on our planet. Larger creatures were not viable until some of those tiny creatures developed the chemical chlorophyll. Chlorophyll was behind the photosynthesis by which today’s plants absorb energy from the Sun. In the beginning, however, most organisms consisted of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Contemporary science sees the Gaia hypothesis – a notion put forth by British thinker James Lovelock, and which we will return to later on – as, at best, a metaphor.
One of the deans of contemporary earth science, Cambridge University’s Ted Nield, has written a masterful chronology of the planet which shows life originating long before Earth’s atmosphere began to change. Nield’s volume doesn’t mention Lovelock or his ideas. Citing contemporary scholarship, Nield reminds his readers that “the first living cells formed on the floor of Earth’s first newly-condensed oceans, where warm, alkaline submarine springs focused chemical energy, and the mixing of hot spring water and seawater caused simple chemicals to precipitate out as thin, inorganic films.” These early slimes originated about 4.4 billion years ago, and can be found in the geological record.
About 3.5 billion years ago, when a supercontinent named Ur dominated the planet, a fundamental shift took place. Some of the primeval slimes learned to photosynthesize, and soon began pouring a deadly gas, oxygen, into an atmosphere then comprised mostly of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen. Before oxygen “could build up in the air to levels that could support oxygen-breathing animals, the products of the first photo-synthesizing organisms had to oxidize all the [Earth’s] iron and sulphur. These elements constituted a vast oxygen ‘sink’; one that geological evidence suggests was not completely filled for as long as 1.6 billion years.”
Created in the Big Bang which astrophysicists have described as the origin of the Universe, oxygen is the third-most abundant element in the universe – after hydrogen and helium (which between them make up 99.9 percent of known matter in the universe.) These three elements were forged in the superhot, super-dense, cores of stars.
Oxygen is a highly reactive element, which can form compounds with nearly every other chemical element. Thus, it is odd that there are so many free oxygen molecules in the atmosphere. A related mystery is that Earth’s atmosphere remains stable at 21 percent oxygen. “It’s not that easy why it should balance at 21 percent rather than 10 or 40 percent,” said geoscientist James Kasting. “We don’t understand the modern oxygen control system that well.”
Although the mechanism that keeps oxygen levels in the air stable is not clear, the original source of that free oxygen is clear. Tiny organisms known as cyanobacteria, a kind of blue-green algae, were the first to conduct photosynthesis. These systems use sunshine as a primary energy source, water and carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates and oxygen. In fact, all the plants on Earth incorporate symbiotic cyanobacteria (known as chloroplasts) for photosynthesis.
But some 2.45 billion years ago, for the first time oxygen was becoming a significant component of Earth’s atmosphere. At roughly the same time (and for eons thereafter), oxidized iron began to appear in ancient soils and bands of iron were deposited on the seafloor, a product of reactions with oxygen in the seawater.
Climate, volcanism, plate tectonics all played a key role in regulating the oxygen level during various time periods. Yet no one has come up with a rock-solid test to determine the precise oxygen content of the atmosphere at any given time from the geologic record. But one thing is clear—the origins of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere derive from one thing: life.
“What it looks like is that oxygen was first produced somewhere around 2.7 billion to 2.8 billion years ago. It took up residence in the atmosphere around 2.45 billion years ago,” according to geochemist Dick Holland. “It looks as if there’s a significant time interval between the appearance of oxygen-producing organisms and the actual oxygenation of the atmosphere.”
So a date and a culprit can be fixed for what scientists refer to as the Great Oxidation Event, but mysteries remain. What occurred 2.45 billion years ago that enabled cyanobacteria to take over? What were oxygen levels at that time? Why did it take another one billion years—dubbed the “boring billion” by scientists—for oxygen levels to rise high enough to enable the evolution of animals?
Climate, volcanism, plate tectonics all played a key role in regulating the oxygen level during various time periods. Yet no one has come up with a rock-solid test to determine the precise oxygen content of the atmosphere at any given time from the geologic record. But one thing is clear—the origins of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere derive from one thing: life. 
Life gradually adapted to the presence of oxygen, became ever more complicated in form, and gradually spread beyond the oceans. “The growth of oxygen has not been steady,” says Nield. “There have been times when much more oxygen was present in the air than now; for example, during the Carboniferous Period, just as Pangaea was forming. Coal forests then covered much of the planet, pumping out oxygen and sequestering carbon.”
One of the wastes from this development was the excretion of oxygen, which began to poison Earth’s atmosphere. This, of course, was a transformational event in the planet’s life. By separating carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen, it made carbon available for the development of carbon-based life, and oxygen to provide them with readily available energy. It led to the Cambrian explosion – the relatively short (20 million years in length) evolutionary event which began around 541 million years ago. During that geologically brief period, the fossil record shows, most major animal phyla appeared. Over the following 70 to 80 million years, the rate of diversification accelerated. Larger creatures evolved: insects, reptiles, birds and mammals – at least 8.7 million species, in today’s world.
The precipitation that falls on land serves exactly the same purpose, but takes a more roundabout course in furnishing the vapour needed in the atmosphere. It can fall as rain or snow. It can penetrate the earth or become runoff, which flows along creeks and streams to lakes, most of which empty into rivers which, often in roundabout ways, flow into salty oceans.
If it soaks into the ground, it gradually adds to the groundwater supply, where it may sit for thousands of years before slowly moving on. It may then enter an underground water course before draining into an aquifer or stream to blend with a larger flow – ultimately finding itself, as a contributory to an ocean, part of the world’s largest body of water.
“It will then evaporate from the surface of the ocean to the atmosphere to await some particles of dust around which drops of water will form, McEwan continues. “Eventually the water will plummet earthward as rain to start the turn of the water wheel all over again.”
If the planet’s total water supply were equally distributed, the amount for each man, woman and child would far exceed their need. And yet many still face the threat of shortages of good drinking water. Concerned citizens dare not relax their emphasis on water drinking quality. If there is not enough good water, the challenge must be nothing less than conversion to drinking water of the required amounts. It is a process which is technologically feasible today, and will become an inescapable necessity in the future.
“As far as the world’s food is concerned, all people must learn together to make proper use of the earth in which we live. Hovering even now over our shoulders is a spectre as sinister as the atomic bomb because it could depopulate the earth and destroy our cities. This creeping terror is the wastage of the world’s natural resources and, particularly, the criminal exploitation of the soil. What will it profit us to achieve the H-bomb and survive that tragedy or triumph, if the generations that succeed in this must starve in a world because of our misuse, grown barren as the mountains of the moon?”
“Over the course of 3,000 years, on average, the Earth’s hydrological cycle, moving water from the surface to atmosphere and back, processes an amount of water equivalent to all of the world’s oceans. We know this movement of water as weather.”
“By comparing the relative composition of carbon and 55 million-year-old foraminifera shells at different places in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the oceanographers saw that the gradient in relative amounts of the two types of carbon was reversed – the Atlantic’s deep water current was flowing from north to south. Intriguingly, the flipping direction seemed to occur very fast – in just a few thousand years – but it took more than 100,000 years to revert.
“It is not clear what caused these huge changes,” McEwan said, “but it is likely that the dense, salty water near the poles would have had to become fresher in order for the current to become compromised. Perhaps the warmer seas produced more evaporation in the tropics, which then turned into clouds and rain at higher latitudes, delivering more fresh water into (and therefore compromising the action of) a part of the ocean that would normally be a heavy, salt-water sink.” The result, in any case, was a water current that included sinking salty water driving one end of a fast global conveyor belt. The message, of course, is that changes to climate can be fast and huge.
“Perhaps the most talked about effect of climate change is sea level rise, and with good reason – the rate of rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the average rate during the previous two millennia. From the period 1901 to 2010, the world’s average sea level rose by 0.19 M, at a rate of 1.7 mm per year between 1901 and 2010, 2 mm per year between 1971 and 2010 and 3.2 mm per year between 1993 and 2010. Different parts of the world have seen (and will continue to see) different amounts of sea level rise – rates are three times higher than the average in the Western Pacific and the Southeast Asian region, whereas they are decreasing in the eastern Pacific for the period 1993-2012.” However, water is such an odd stuff that it probably has a greater impact on our planet than any other single substance. Consider the following:
All kinds of things will dissolve in water, which is sometimes called a “universal solvent”. It dissolves more substances than any other liquid. “This feature enables water to dissolve and carry minerals and nutrients in runoff, infiltration, groundwater flow, and also in the bodies of living organisms.” Water can dissolve many of the rocks which make up our planet, for example. It can absorb carbon, nitrogen and sulphur oxides to form acids. This is because ionic substances – atoms or molecules in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving the atom or molecule a net positive or negative electrical charge – are everywhere in nature.
“Water also has interesting thermal properties. When heated from 0°C (melting point of ice) to 4°C, the contraction becomes denser; most other substances expand and become less dense when heated. In the case of water this happens only beyond 4°C. Conversely, when water is cooled in the temperature range four to 0°C, it expands. It expands greatly as it freezes, adding about 9 percent by volume; as a consequence, ice is less dense than water and, therefore, floats on it.”
Another unique property of water is its high specific heat. “Water can absorb a lot of heat before it begins to get hot and its temperature changes significantly. This is why water is valuable to industries for cooling purposes and is also used in an automobile the oil radiator is a coolant. The high specific heat of water, present in the air as moisture, also helps regulate the rate at which the temperature of the year changes, which is why the temperature changes between seasons are gradual rather than abrupt, except in coastal areas.”
Water is also unique in another thermal property, latent heat, the heat change associated with the change of state or phase. Latent heat, also called heat of transformation, is a measure of the heat given up or absorbed by a unit mass set of substance as it changes its form from solid to liquid, from liquid to gas, or vice versa. It is called latent because it is not associated with the change in temperature. Each substance has a characteristic heat of fusion, associated with the solid-liquid transition, and a characteristic heat of vaporization, associated with the liquid to gas transition. “The latent heat of fusion for ice is 334 J (equals 80 Cal) per gram. This amount of heat is absorbed by each gram of ice in melting was given up by each gram of water during freezing. The latent heat of vaporization of steam is 2,260 joules, taken up by boiling water at 100°C to form steam or given up during condensation from vapour to liquid, that is, when steam condenses to form water. This is the reason that putting one’s finger in a jet of steam causes more severe burning than dipping it in boiling water at 100 and degrees Celsius for substance passing directly from the solid to the gaseous state, or vice versa, the heat absorbed or released is known as the latent heat of sublimation.
Another odd phenomenon is that, when both hot water and cold water are placed in sub-zero temperatures at the same time, it is the hot water that freezes first.
Imagine our planet as a living creature. The concept isn’t new – many peoples have seen Earth and our seas as members of a pantheon of gods and goddesses. One of those names, Gaia, is a transliteration of the name for the Greek goddess representing Earth. In 1965, British thinker James Lovelock came up with a notion he called the Gaia hypothesis.
Because of his involvement with America’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which played a role in the American space program, Lovelock had given considerable thought to issues related to interplanetary space. So when the discussion turned to searching for life on nearby planets he suggested searching for the reversal of entropy – the tendency of closed systems to move endlessly toward greater disorder. Put another way, the idea was to see whether there were any systems in Mars or Venus that organized themselves, rather than moved toward increasing disorder. His observation, of course, was based on the reality that living systems on Earth continually reorder themselves – that is, reversed entropy.
“Chance favoured me with a view of the Earth from space and I saw it as the stunningly beautiful anomaly of the solar system – a planet that was palpably different from its dead and deserted siblings, Mars and Venus,” He wrote in his autobiography.” I saw Earth as much more than just a ball of rock moistened by the oceans, or a space ship put there by a beneficent God just for the use of humankind. I saw it as a planet that has always, since its origins nearly four billion years ago, kept itself a fit home for the life that happened upon it and I thought that it did so by homeostasis, the wisdom of the body, just as you and I keep our temperature and chemistry constant. In this view the spontaneous evolution of life did more than make Darwin’s world: it created a joint project with the evolving earth itself. Life does more than adapt to Earth; it changes it, and evolution is a tight-coupled dance with life and the material environment as partners and from the dance emerges the entity Gaia.”
Earth is a living planet in the sense that Earth’s atmosphere is 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, with traces of carbon dioxide, methane and argon. By itself, the composition of our atmosphere would cause interstellar atmospheric scientists to scratch their heads, since oxygen oxidizes almost everything in sight, forming stable compounds. Similarly, nitrogen forms nitrates, which logically should simply dissolve into seas, lakes and oceans. According to Lovelock, the difference is Gaia, which transforms the outer layer of the planet into environments suitable for growth.
Self-regulating feedback mechanisms keep the planet habitable despite extreme disequilibrium everywhere. The elements in the atmosphere are remarkably stable – indeed, they are optimal for Earth’s dominant organisms. Gaia mostly hosts carbon-based life, and those organisms require oxygen to breathe and low levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to maintain moderate temperatures. Indeed, for billions of years the brightness of the sun has been increasing, which means that, if carbon sequestration had not developed naturally, reducing to trace amounts the presence of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, the temperature of our planet would have been increasing instead of undergoing billions of years of decline.
To a large degree through the agency of microorganisms, Earth developed systems for storing these molecules safely away. “The continental shelves may also be vital in the regulation of the oxygen-carbon cycle,” adds Lovelock. “It is through the burial of carbon in the anaerobic muds of the sea-bed that a net increment of oxygen in the atmosphere is ensured. Without carbon burial, which leaves one additional oxygen molecule in the air for each carbon atom thus removed from the cycle of photosynthesis and respiration, oxygen would inevitably decline in concentration in the atmosphere until it almost reached the vanishing-point.”
Over the longer term the idea hasn’t gained much scientific traction. One reason is that his ideas reflect a certain whimsy; another is that they represent anthropic reasoning. Given our position on the planet, isn’t it obvious that we would see the world as having been created especially for humankind? Yes, but isn’t that the stuff of religion?
To a large degree, astrophysics itself put an end to the Gaia Hypothesis. Since Lovelock first put forward his proposal, the various sciences looking out into our galaxy have calculated there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars and red dwarf stars within the Milky Way Galaxy alone. Given such vast numbers, thinking about the universe only from the perspective of our own evolution makes little sense.
As science historian Timothy Ferris explains, anthropic thinking “attempts to constrain facts about the universe by taking into account our presence here. To ‘constrain’ means, in this context, to improve our ability to calculate the odds of nature’s being the way it is, by reducing its potential states from an infinite number to the much smaller set of states in which it is possible for life to exist…. [Thus] the deck can hold only cards with values quite close to the one we drew. Otherwise there would be nobody around to draw the card.”
In today’s world, there is no doubt that petroleum is a by-product of the decomposition of living things, so it is worth going back in time to the ages when its formation began. In those times, the most basic features of the planet’s surface were dramatically different from the ones we know today.
Between 1885 and 1909, Austrian geoscientist Eduard Suess published four volumes explaining the nature of the last great supercontinent and, in fact, named it Pangaea. Using fossil records from the Alps and Africa, he also proposed that it had contained an inland sea, which he named after the Greek sea goddess Tethys. When the theory of plate tectonics became established in the 1960s, it became clear that Suess’s sea had in fact been an ocean, and contributed to the present petroleum wealth of today’s Gulf of Mexico. Plate tectonics also provided the mechanism by which the former ocean disappeared. In plate tectonic theory, oceanic crust can subduct under the continental crust.
About 300 million years ago, during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras, the present continents formed this supercontinent – a word based on the Greek prefix “pan,” which means “all” and the noun Gaea, which is a variant of Gaia. The idea originated with a German scientist, Alfred Wegener. The latest thinking about Pangaea is that it was only one of many supercontinents on our planet, and that there will be many more to come. They break up and form again, deep in Earth’s history. Although new lands like Iceland do emerge through the forces of plate tectonics, for the most part the world’s archipelagos and continents are pieces of a smashed plate – a plate which was once a supercontinent. My favourite factoid about tectonics is that Africa and South America are drifting apart at about the same rate your fingernails grow.
Today’s continents will crash together again about 250 million years from now. That makes a nice symmetry, since Pangaea began to break apart around 250 million years ago. The continents drifted ever farther from each other, heading toward their modern positions. The part of Pangaea that became North America was subject to repeated ocean inundations and orogenies (periods of mountain building) over the millions of years before a period of uplift broke Pangaea apart and the modern continents began drifting away from mid-ocean ridges. Chains of enormous mountains were worn flat, again and again, by the forces of erosion. The resulting sediments were carried by wind and water to such depressional areas as lakes, ocean margins and deltas, where they were laid down layer upon layer.
Long-gone oceans, primordial seas and smaller bodies of water produced complex environmental conditions that raised the prevalence of microscopic life and ensured its deep burial, producing what eventually became the earth’s main oil reservoirs.
In a brief article on the origin of oil, geoscientist William Broad explains that the real breakthrough in understanding the origins of oil came in the 1930s. At that time a German chemist named Alfred E. Treibs, “discovered that oil harbored the fossil remains of chlorophyll, the compound in plants that helps convert sunlight into chemical energy. The source appeared to be the tiny plants of ancient seas….”
“The sheer mass is hard to imagine,” he continues. “But scientists note that every drop of seawater contains more than a million tiny organisms. Oil production begins when surface waters become so rich in microscopic life that the rain of debris outpaces decay on the seabed. The result is thickening accumulations of biologic sludge. The standard temperature for oil formation is between 120 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit. The earth gets increasingly warm with increasing depth, the temperature eventually rising so high that rocks melt (and occasionally remerge at the surface in volcanic eruptions).
During the twentieth century, armies of geologists have confirmed that beds of marine sediments often indicate the nearby presence of oil – often, as in North America, in dry land basins that once hosted marine life. The largest of those basins is the Western Canada Basin, which hosts the oil sands. As Ned Gilbert explained in a 1951 article, the basin is more than large enough to contain all of Texas, California, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas – that is, the states that produced virtually all of America’s oil production at that time – combined.
The hydrocarbons that formed early on in this process were essentially light oil and natural gas. However, over the years much of that oil degraded into what Alain-Yves Huc describes as “heavy oils, extra-heavy oils and tar sands.” In the introduction to an exhaustive technical study of heavy oil he edited, Huc describes them as massive world resources, at least the size of conventional oils. Although found all over the world, more than half of the world deposits of these unconventional lie in Western Canada and Venezuela. 
Conventional oils are low in viscosity and clear in colour because they have relatively high ratios of hydrogen to carbon molecules. Heavy oil and bitumen, which have far more carbon than hydrogen, are heavy, black, sticky and either slow-pouring or so close to being solid that they will not pour at all unless heated. The many forms of oil share the same origin as the lighter conventional oils, but in some cases their geological fate converted them into thick, viscous tar-like crude oils.
As luck would have it, the shifting of land masses and the movement of seas led to deposits of oil and gas across the planet that roughly represent two energy super-provinces. One is in the Old World; the other, in the New. The Old World super-province stretches from North Africa through the Middle East into Siberia. Rich with conventional oil and natural gas, it is the source of most of the petroleum traded on global markets.
The New World super-province reaches from northern Alaska and the Beaufort Sea through Alberta’s oil sands down to Venezuela’s Orinoco heavy oil belt, and continues south between the Atlantic coast and the eastern Andes. Richer in oil than its Old World sibling, its conventional resources are in decline everywhere except offshore Brazil, where vast new fields are under development. This vast region has great volumes of untapped unconventional resources – notably those in Alberta, and those in Venezuela’s Orinoco ultra-heavy oil belt.
Canada is well-endowed with sedimentary basins – primarily because during the Devonian a great inland sea stretched from today’s Beaufort Sea to the Gulf of Mexico. Most of Canada’s oil and gas production has come from the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, a portion of North America’s Great Interior Basin, which has its southern terminus in the Gulf of Mexico. The Western Canada Basin begins at the Beaufort Sea in the north, and stretches south through the Yukon and Northwest Territories. In southern Canada, it embraces the north-eastern portion of British Columbia, almost all of Alberta, the southern half of Saskatchewan, and the south-western corner of Manitoba. To the west, the basin is limited by the Cordillera, the series of mountain ranges which begins with the Rockies and continues west to the Pacific Ocean. The eastern boundary is the Precambrian Shield, the huge expanse of exposed granite that covers two-thirds of Canada. Precambrian rocks formed before life was plentiful on this planet, and so this enormous area is unlikely to contain petroleum.
Foreland basins can be thousands of kilometres long and hundreds wide. When source rocks are present, these basins develop enormous elongated “kitchens,” which produce vast volumes of oil. As the illustration shows, in these systems oil migrates up underground strata from the source rocks to structural and stratigraphic traps at the margins of the basin.
Underground pressure forces the oil to soak into shallower silt grade sediments and localized sand bodies in what is now known as the McMurray formation. Over millions of years, light oil degraded into bitumen. This took place as lighter hydrocarbons evaporated from the mixture. More importantly, temperatures were such that bacteria could survive in those reservoirs.
“Biological alteration is potentially active as soon as the temperature of the geological environment hosting the oil is sufficiently low to allow the living processes of these microbial consortia to take place,” Huc wrote. “Empirically, but based on a large set of observations, the microbial degradation of oil is assumed to be very active up to 65oC, but remains significant up to 80oC.” Over millions of years, these bacteria consumed more of the oil, leaving behind the heavy gunk now known as bitumen. This heavy oil contains fewer light oils and more impurities – for example, sulphur and nitrogen compounds and metals. Although in some cases these resources have commercial value, only about one percent of the world’s total heavy crude oil deposits are under development.
Less obvious in this map is that watersheds literally define the southern half of the province’s boundary with British Columbia. Demarcation of the boundary through the Rocky Mountains depended on the flow of water. If it flowed westward, it belonged to BC; eastward, the prairie region – and ultimately Alberta. Known as the Continental Divide, the line dividing rivers flowing west to the Pacific from drainage to the Arctic and Atlantic is easy to visualize, since it lies along the main ranges of the Rockies. 
Alberta has the world’s largest oil sands deposits, with the three main deposits (shown in light green on the map) in northern Alberta. Bitumen can also be found in “bitumen carbonates” – potentially vast reservoirs in the geological Grosmont formation, which lies deeper in the earth than the oil sands and heavy oil deposits. Alberta’s enormous deposits of these carbonates – the oil is much like that in the oil sands – represent 96 per cent of the entire world’s supply of this black, barely mobile oil. Canada’s bitumen carbonate deposits form a geometrical shape often referred to as the “carbonate triangle.”
As this introduction illustrates, water underlay the life that created these hydrocarbon resources, and it’s as important today as it has been throughout the eons in which Alberta’s petroleum resources developed. Although non-renewable oil backstops the province’s economy, water remains as essential for life as ever, and it’s renewable. The area of Lake Athabasca that falls inside Alberta’s boundaries is 2,295 square kilometres and is the largest water surface in the province. The largest lake completely in Alberta is the remote Lake Claire, which is in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, in the top right corner of the resource map. The province has nine other lakes completely within its borders and larger than 100 square kilometres. After Lake Athabasca and Lake Claire, in order of descending area they include Lesser Slave Lake, Bistcho Lake, Cold Lake, Utikuma Lake, Lac la Biche, Beavershills Lake, Calling Lake, Pakowki Lake, and Winefred Lake. The following pages describe some of the many vital roles water has played in Alberta’s history, and why it requires careful stewardship.
One of those roles is to provide habitat for prairie flora and fauna. One of these lakes has been the study area for an extensive study, and deserves mention here. Located near the town of Tofield, the research done at Beaverhill Lake provides an extensive inventory of the diversity of living creatures nourished in prairie wetlands. Before 1865, only indigenous people – in this case, Cree – lived in the area. At the time, it was known as Beaver or Beavershills Lake.
Beavershills Lake lies at the heart of an area recognized as one of North America’s most important wetlands in the hydrographic basin of North Saskatchewan River. The lake supports hundreds of plant and animal species in its still, shallow waters, undisturbed by boats or swimmers. Managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service division of Environment Canada, it is a site of regional importance in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
As recently as 1990, the lake had a total area of 139 square kilometres and a maximum depth of only 2.3 metres. Like similar “prairie pothole” lakes, this one has receded significantly in recent years. According to one report, it lost about one quarter of its depth between 1999 and 2009.
The lake is an important bird habitat, and has been designated a “National Nature Viewpoint” by Nature Canada (formerly known as the Canadian Nature Federation) in 1981. The Beavershills Natural Area was established in 1987 to protect the lake and its surrounding area. Beavershills Lake Heritage Rangeland Natural Area is also established on what were the shores of the lake. The Beavershills Lake Group, a stratigraphical unit of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin was named for this lake.
In any given year, some 300 species migrate to, through and/or from Alberta in the course of a year. In an important study of the Beavershills Parkland, naturalists Dick Dekker and Edgar T. Jones report that 291 confirmed bird species had been sighted in the park over the years, five of which were “hypothetical” in the sense that they were reported in the early years of the 20th century and therefore not confirmed. They cite records of 32 mammals sighted (four hypothetical), and provide a checklist of seven fish, amphibians and reptiles. Finally, they list 35 tree, shrub and wildflower species. This is a dramatic confirmation of the importance of lakes and wetlands as habitat within the province.
Of interest, however, the researchers studied the area over time – in the latter 1980, and again in the early 90s, after a period of severe drought when, compared to one of his earlier study areas, “the main lake was literally out of sight.” To the point, however, “long-time residents recall that it had dropped even lower during the early 1950s. Fortunately, in 1997 snow runoff and rain brought the lake back up to a respectable level. In the meantime, it was fascinating to observe the changes the down-cycle brought to the ecosystem.”
As the shoreline retreated, cattails and bulrushes disappeared with it. Mud flats “sprouted masses of seedlings, but they too died after the water failed to come back up. “Homeless, some Black Birds built their nests in ragwort, which grew to giant proportions. Other species took advantage of open ground. In 1993, the rare Piping Plover returned to nests successfully for the first time in many years. In 1996 there were six pairs, but much of their habitat would soon be invaded by Foxtails. One or two seasons later, it turned into a jungle of chest-high grasses, thistles and other hardy weeds. A walk along the shore felt like an obstacle course, particularly where cattle had pockmarked the soft ground.”
Grebes, Night Herons, and Terns stopped breeding and went elsewhere. More than 300 pairs of pelicans and about 100 cormorants held onto their island, although they had to commute daily to other lakes…to obtain food.” In June 1993, the researchers found the island abandoned: “a single pelican egg remained, and the nests of cormorants contained only dead chicks. Tracks indicated that coyotes had raided the breeding colony by crossing the shallow channel between island and shore.”
“Affected by the vagaries and interaction of many factors, both natural and human-related,” they wrote, “some species have increased, such as the Raven. Others have lost ground. One of these, unfortunately, is the Sharp-tailed Grouse.” They proposed a ban on hunting upland birds – essentially grouse and pheasants near the lake. This “might bring them back in the future….”
Source of map
To understand how fortunate Canada is in respect to water supply, consider that natural disasters affected almost two billion people in the last decade of the 20th century, 86% of them by floods and droughts. Asia has the greatest annual availability of fresh-water and Australia the lowest. But when population is taken into account the picture looks very different. By the mid-1990s eighty countries, which collectively were home to 40 percent of the world’s population, encountered serious shortages of water. Africa and the Middle East have the regions with the most serious problems.
Almost one fifth of the world’s population (about 1.2 billion people) live in areas where water is physically scarce. One quarter of the global population also live in developing countries that face water shortages due to a lack of infrastructure to fetch water from rivers and aquifers. Nearly half of the world’s population does not have drinking water piped to their premises, and three quarters of a billion people do not have access to clean drinking water.
The world has lost half of its wetlands since 1900, and freshwater species face an estimated extinction rate five times greater than that of terrestrial species. One hundred and thirty five of the world’s 227 biggest rivers have interrupted stream flows because of dams and other infrastructure. Interruptions in stream flow dramatically decrease downstream sediment and nutrient transport. This reduces water quality and impairs ecosystem health.
About one third of the world’s population are without access to effective sanitation systems, and 1.8 billion of those children, women and men live in Asia. Every day, humanity discharges two million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste the world’s water. By weight, that’s equal to our planet’s entire human population. One result is that 4 million people die from water-borne diseases annually – the vast majority in Asian and African nations. Waterborne and other infectious diseases are the number one killer of children under five years of age.
In a world in which many countries are deeply worried about access to clean water, Canada is in a unique position. Among the world’s larger countries, we are number four in terms of fresh-water resources, as the following table shows. Yet we have a relatively small population. In per capita terms, Canadians are water-rich.
Economically advanced countries and their fresh water resources
Country Total Water Resources Average Precipitation
1 Brazil 8,233.0 km3/year 15,236 km3/year
2 Russia 4,508.0 km3/year 7,855 km3/year
3 United States 3,069.0 km3/year 7,030 km3/year
4 Canada 2,902.0 km3/year 5,352 km3/year
5 China 2,738.8 km3/year 5,995 km3/year
Because of glacial activity on the vast Canadian Shield during the last Ice Age, 60 per cent of the world’s lakes are within our borders. Notably, Canada hosts 14 of the world’s 38 largest lakes – five of them (including Lake of the Woods) on the Canada/US border. (Lake Michigan is entirely within American territory.)
Since her earliest days, Canada has prospered from natural resources and geography. Aboriginal groups set up their camps along waterways and lakes – to some degree because of their reliance on canoe transport. After contact with Europe began, French and aboriginal fur traders earned their livelihoods with the aid of canoe transport along Canada’s mostly northward-flowing rivers. They played a big role in the country’s creation by taking information about resource potential from remote northern locations to political and commercial centres like Montréal and to the HBC’s “factories,” where the company’s “factors” exchanged trading goods for pelts. Through their journals and maps, they created a large body of information about this vast new territory.
The Aboriginals of today’s Canada initially greeted white men with fear and respect, initially believing them to be sorcerers or even all-powerful spirits. The Plains Sioux who encountered Jesuit priest Louis Hennepin in the 1680s approached him with great caution, but offered him food at the end of a long stick. Even earlier than that, the Algonquin and the Iroquois had been amazed and astounded by the Europeans because of their trade goods, and apparently magical power to make things. That said, the almost divine status that Aboriginals accorded the Europeans rarely lasted more than one or two seasons. They quickly realized that these self-interested newcomers wanted primarily to get their hands on the largest number of beaver pelts for the minimum amount of trade. Alliances among Aboriginal peoples had developed over many centuries, based on the generosity of partners who did not have technological advantages over other First Nations.
By contrast, Europeans had “one, ill-concealed goal: to exploit the resources of this new land they had discovered,” wrote Francis Back and Jean-Pierre Hardy. “Once the Europeans’ mean-spiritedness became evident, their Indian partners could easily, and justifiably, break off the relationship.” This had the effect of forcing the European traders to accept “rules of the commerce based on giving and sharing, while the Indians had to adapt to the logic of the market, learning to play in the competition between the European powers.”
When they arrived in the New World, the authors continued, “Europeans set off a powerful shock wave that swept across the continent, sometimes dozens of years ahead of them.” Rumours, stories and objects that coastal Indians had developed from their encounters swept into the continent from its coasts, having been traded from tribe to tribe.
According to Harold Innis, who in the 1920s wrote a landmark interpretation of Canada’s economic development, “The economic history of Canada has been dominated by the discrepancy between the centre and the margins of Western civilization. [People’s] energy has been directed toward the exploitation of staple products and the tendency has been cumulative. [Raw material] supplied to the mother country stimulated manufacturers of the finished product and also of the products which were in demand in the colony.”
He contended that “large-scale production of raw materials was encouraged by improvement of techniques of production, of marketing, and of transport as well as by improvement in the manufacture of the finished product.” Therefore people in the colonies, as they were then, “directly and indirectly” focused on developing staple commodities – what we today would call resources. This was how Canadians became directly involved “in the production of the staple and indirectly in the production of facilities promoting production” he wrote. The result is that “agriculture, industry, transportation, trade, finance, and governmental activities tend to become subordinate to the production of the staple for a more highly specialized manufacturing community.”
The first westerner to report seeing the oil sands in their natural state was Yankee fur trader Peter Pond. “Born in 1739, son of a Connecticut shoemaker and descendant of an old colonial line of military men, Pond eagerly took up arms for King George III, fighting against French forces at Ticonderoga, Fort Niagara, and Montréal,” said historian Barry Gough in a concise portrayal of his life. “His military campaigning led Pond to take a favorable view of Canada and its prospects at the Peace of 1763….Of industrious habits, and with a good common education, he was a feisty, roistering, self-directed man who took to trading with the native people as easily as he campaigned in wilderness military forays.” The “peace” Gough refers to involved King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1764, which enabled Britain to administer North American lands which France had ceded the previous year. Language used in the proclamation established the constitutional framework for treaties with Aboriginal communities as “First Nations.”
Pond was “of a violent temper and perhaps morose and quarrelsome disposition,” Gough said. It is alleged that “he committed or plotted murder or manslaughter against other traders. Both times he ran free in a wild world where the writ of the Crown in Canada had only paper authority.”
In a journal he wrote toward the end of his life, Pond described in idiosyncratic spelling his participation in the 1760 victory of the British Empire over France. “We then left a garrison and descended the river til we reacht Montreal the ondly plase the French had in possession in Canaday. Hear we lay one night with our armes. The next day the town sranderd to Gineral Amharst.”
The Yankee fur trader was active throughout present-day Minnesota and Wisconsin and, through business, became acquainted with Alexander Henry the younger, Simon McTavish and the brothers Thomas, Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher. They formed the Montréal-based North West Company, which became a fierce competitor to HBC. In search of new fur resources, Pond explored west of the Great Lakes. In 1776–1778 he founded and wintered at a fur post at the junction of the Sturgeon River and North Saskatchewan River. During his explorations, he travelled down the Clearwater River to the Athabasca.
There is little doubt that Pond saw the oil sands. What is in doubt, however, is whether he was actually the first non-native to view and report on their presence – and if he was, in what words. Even Canadian historian Harold Innes attributed a passage in French to this marginally literate man: «Ce qu’il y a de certain, c’est que le long des bords de cette rivière et du Lac [[Athabasca]], on trouve des sources de bitume qui coulent sur la terre.»[†] Given Pond’s appalling written English, it is impossible to credit his speaking fluent French – especially since those of European descent and Aboriginals communicated in patois.
Oil sands historian Joseph Fitzgerald offers a reasonable explanation. He believes the quote originated with a Frenchman named Michel Guillaume St. Jean de Crèvecœur, who had visited the Athabasca country in 1785. Fitzgerald suggests that de Crèvecœur took notes on Pond’s speculations about the country, and that this famous sentence appeared in a biography of the Frenchman, published in 1883.
Consistent with this explanation is that Northwestern fur traders developed a language of their own. Citing a journey that began almost 100 years after Peter Pond‘s, Juliette Champagne quoted expedition leaders Viscount William Milton and Dr. Walter Cheadle as saying “Our conversation was carried on in Canadian French, for [the guides’] knowledge of English was very imperfect. Amongst themselves, they used a mixed patois of French and Indian, for a long time perfectly incomprehensible to us.”
Language played a key role in the work of missionaries, according to Champagne. French missionaries had such a high success rate among the indigenous peoples of the Upper North-West because the people there spoke a pidgin or creole of French, Dené and Cree, giving Francophones access to the native languages.
A missionary at Fort Good Hope, Father Henri Grollier – he died in 1864, aged 38 – was adamant that the people there should not speak to him in any other language than French. There was to be no mixture of languages for him. However his superior, Bishop Grandin, disagreed with this amateurish point of view and saw the advantages of learning aboriginal languages. Anglophone missionaries did not have the linguistic advantage of those who spoke French and thus had a handicap when it came to communicating with the Native Peoples. This contributed to the lesser success of those who tried to convert aboriginals to Anglicanism and other Reformation creeds. It also helped that the word was out among those of French/Indian mixed blood that the Catholic faith was the true one, and that all the others were doomed.
At least partly because of his association with the murder of fellow fur traders Jean-Etienne Waddens and John Ross, in the latter 1770s Pond’s “star rapidly faded.” A decade later, though, he drew a map of the general outline of the Mackenzie River basin, and prepared other maps based on his explorations and on information provided to him by First Nations peoples. While his business was the fur trade – in 1779 he came out of the Chipewyan country with 80,000 prime beaver pelts – it was his eye-witness report on the presence of bitumen and his map-making that secured for Pond a place in the oil sands chronicles.
His understanding of the geography of the west played a sinister role in Canadian history, however. According to David Thompson, a contemporary of Pond and the greatest map-maker of the era, Pond used his knowledge of western North America to have an undue portion of the continent allocated to the newly independent United States. “A boundary line through the middle of Lake Champlain, and thence due west would have been accepted in the United States for it was more than they could justly claim, had a gentleman of abilities been selected on the part of Great Britain, but at that time North America was held in contempt,” he wrote.
To the United States commissioners Mr. Pond designated a boundary line passing through the middle of the St. Lawrence to Lake Superior, through that lake and the interior countries to the northwest corner of the Lake of the Woods; and thence westward to the head of the Missouri [Mississippi], being twice the area of the territory the States could justly claim. This exorbitant demand the British commissioners accepted, and it was confirmed by both nations. Such was the hand that designated the boundary line between the dominions of Great Britain and the territories of the United States.
In the 1500s, Portugal and Spain had taken control of the sea routes to Asia and claimed sovereignty over Latin America. The British (and French) response was to claim and begin settling North America. Also, Britain sought a Northwest Passage to gain access to Asian markets. This context helps explain the activities of Alexander Mackenzie, whom the Montréal-based North West Company sent west to become Pond’s successor. From Pond he learned that, according to Aboriginals, local rivers flowed to the northwest and he got fired up with the idea of going on this northern expedition. Pond impetuously left the company the following year, perhaps because he wanted to devote his final years to exploration.
Before he left for Montréal, Pond had been the victim of back-stabbing of the metaphorical variety – notably from Mackenzie himself, who outwardly maligned the idea of following the great river north. However, it is worth remembering that Pond was the original proponent of the notion of seeking the North West Passage by this route. In 1790 Pond sold his interest in the Northwest Company for £800 and returned to Milford, Connecticut. Innis speculates that his retirement may have been prompted by news of Mackenzie’s voyage, which disproved his theory about the Northwest Passage. In 1807 he died in poverty.
Mackenzie had full authority to manage the North West Company‘s local affairs, and to reorganize “the posts of the area, and complete freedom to undertake his mission into unknown parts. Free of the pressing executive obligations that had pinned him down for a decade, [Mackenzie] was released to pursue the Northwest Passage.” Mackenzie’s star “glowed ever brighter.”
The notion that the tributaries of that area gathered into a great river possibly flowing to the Northwest Passage had fired him up, and after Pond returned to Montréal the Scottish-born adventurer followed the river to its mouth. This basin provides access by canoe to the lands that eventually became Western Canada.
Although map-makers named the river after Mackenzie, he was not the first European to explore it. Between 1754-5 HBC adventurer Anthony “Henday” canoed from York Factory on Hudson Bay to present-day Alberta. He was on a trading expedition, and the paying guest of a party of Assiniboine and Cree Indians. He almost certainly saw bitumen deposits on his travels, but made no reference to them in his journals. His descriptions of Aboriginal life and game hunting, however, are fascinating. According to an annotated release of his journal (1973), his surname was almost certainly Hendry, not Henday.
In 1792, Mackenzie set out again to find a route to the Pacific. This time he took a series of tributaries to the Peace River, wintering in what became known as Fort Fork. The following year he crossed the Great Divide, then reached an inlet to the Pacific Ocean. He had thus commanded two epochal expeditions: the first by a European from the interior of the continent to the Arctic and the first expedition across North America north of Mexico.
In published reports of his two expeditions, Mackenzie provided a great deal of information about the Aboriginal peoples he encountered, including their dress and customs – frequently deriding the “superstitions” of the locals. His lively account also presents detailed descriptions of geographical features he chanced upon during his ground-breaking adventure. His lively report presented a wealth of information about his travels and sold well in Britain and America’s eastern seaboard. Today, the most widely quoted passage from his book has to do with the oil sands. “At about twenty-four miles from the Fork, are some bitumenous fountains; into which a pole of twenty feet long may be inserted without the least resistance,” he wrote. “The bitumen is in a fluid state, and when mixed with gum or the resinous substance collected from the Spruce Fir, serves to gum the canoes. In its heated state it emits a smell like that of Sea Coal. The banks of the river, which are there very elevated, discover veins of the same bitumenous quality.”
Since European trade in British North America began, Canada has prospered from natural resources and geography. She did not become what she is despite her geographic structures, but because of them.
McKenzie’s exploration describes how the struggle for control of the fur trade influenced more than Canada’s borders, of course. It also puts in context “aboriginal goals and strategies, mercantilist economic thought, European imperial struggles on a global scale, the changing economic fortunes of England and France, and Canadian entrepreneurship,” as Arthur Ray summed matters up.
Innis wrote that the trade in staple products like fish and fur, then timber and mineral resources, characterize “an economically weak country.” One outcome – clearly apparent in the 1920s, was that Canadian businesses consisted to a large degree of exporters focused on selling resources to Europe and the United States. Besides encouraging business to develop around the export market, these developments led to “various peculiar tendencies in Canadian development,” he wrote. “The maintenance of connections with Europe, at first with France and later with Great Britain, has been a result. The diversity of institutions which attended this relationship has made for greater elasticity in organization and for greater tolerance among her peoples. This elasticity of institutions facilitated the development of the compromise which evolved into responsible government and the British Empire.”
“The fur trade permitted the extension of the combination of authority and independence across the northern half of the continent,” he said, and business structures “shifted from the elastic organization characteristic of the Northwest Company along the St. Lawrence from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to the more permanent organization from Hudson Bay. The diversity of institutions has made possible the combination of government ownership and private enterprise which is been a further characteristic of Canadian development.”
Countless hats and fortunes came from the beaver pelt, which played a key role in the development of Canada’s history and even her borders. “The importance of staple exports to Canadian economic development began with the fishing industry but more conspicuously on the continent with the fur trade,” he wrote. Canada’s borders were “a result of the dominance of furs. The exploitation of lumber in the more accessible areas followed the decline of furs.”
The geographic unity of Canada which resulted from the fur trade became less noticeable with the introduction of capitalism and the railroads. Her economic development has been one of gradual adjustment of machine industry to the framework incidental to the fur trade. The sudden growth occasioned by the production of wheat and the development of subsequent staples in the Canadian Shield have been the result of machine industry.”
The first known reference to trade in bitumen comes from a letter from W.L. Hardisty of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Simpson. Dated 1872 and addressed to Mr. Gaudet at Fort Good Hope, the letter said “I shall require 5 kegs of good clean tar from you, for Fort Simpson, and 1 keg for Peels River, to be sent down by the spring boat.” To drive from Fort Simpson to Fort McMurray is a 1,637-kilometre, 19-hour drive along the McKenzie Highway. This gives a sense of the strength and resilience of early traders making their living in Canada’s North.
There are other records of bitumen trade from that era. For example, Juliette Champagne – a historian who specializes in French-language material – cites an 1878 letter from Bishop Henri Faraud, who wanted what he described as “a barrel or two of the tar that could be obtained from the fine tar sands beyond Fort McMurray.” Faraud’s headquarters were in Lac la Biche, so he did not have easy access to bitumen. His mission used the Athabasca River to bring freight to the North, and larger canoes needed tar to stay afloat.
The minor bitumen deposits near his headquarters “were very sandy and would take weeks of boiling in special kettles to purify,” she wrote. “Tar was always in short supply for use on the barges, and year after year the same requests occur” because bitumen was essential for boats and barges. In exchange for the little favours, “Faraud usually sent a little gift which would please, but that year he lacked a small barrel to send wine.”
Two years later, according to Champagne, when he was “returning from his Northern Missions, he managed to collect some tar from the ‘spring on the way’, but lost it and other supplies when they cracked their canoe in rapids south of Fort MacMurray [sic].” She added that they were paddling a canot du maître [master canoe], which George Simpson once had used. It was “rather amazing that it could have lasted so many years, as Simpson had retired at least 30 years before.”
Bishop Alexandre Taché had descended the river in 1856 in a canot du nord [a northern canoe, which was smaller than the canot du maître], but these small vessels were clearly not for serious freighting. In 1864, Bishop Faraud had a boat built and christened Aurora. It was their first. The HBC had not used the Athabasca since losing two fully loaded and manned canoes many years before and considered the river impassable. But in 1864 the company “sent a boat fully loaded with 25 barrels of salt along with the Aurora from Fort Chipewyan to test the waters, so to speak,” Champagne wrote. The two boats were to return together, but there was a delay on the part of the mission. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s boatmen became increasingly agitated about the lowering of the water level in the La Biche River, so they left on July 22nd. The Aurora finally left August 3rd, making the return trip alone. “The boat scraped her keel while passing some rapids, giving the passengers a good scare, and their trip took 18 days.” The HBC eventually lent the mission a carpenter to build boats on site.
In a book based on Jesuit Father Joseph Le Treste’s memoirs, Juliette Champagne brings some humour to the oil sands story when she describes a run-in with the oil sands the priest had during the war. In 1915, Le Treste used a small boat with an outboard motor to take Bishop Gabriel Breynat to Fort McMurray from the Nativité Mission at Fort Chipewyan. Along the way they lost the boat’s propeller in the Athabasca River, but managed to find a replacement. On his return to Fort Chipewyan, Le Treste stopped to collect tar, because “the brothers of the mission of the Nativité Mission much wanted some to caulk their skiffs and boats.”
“I had no difficulty in filling a vessel with four gallons of tar,” he wrote. “But I had no tools, so I used my hands like spades,” without concern for what would follow. “Coated with a thick layer of tar, my hands became massive and my fingers inseparable.” To extricate himself, Le Treste scrubbed himself with “water and sand, but in vain. My position got a bit comical, and greatly amused my companion,” he wrote.
Fortunately, need is the mother of invention. “Remembering that we had gasoline, I asked Victor to pour some on my hands, thinking it might be the specific cure for this embarrassing case. I was not mistaken…that thick tarry layer broke away and disappeared completely. Again I could row and move freely.”
Canada’s history is closely related to the presence and flows of her lakes and rivers.
Exploration and development were largely along water transportation routes, and the early fur and timber trades were river oriented. Water transport dominated early commerce. Canal development made movement possible far into the continent and canal transportation remains important today. Farm irrigation was and is a major factor in agricultural development in the drier southwestern areas of the Prairie Provinces and in the southern interior of BC, and supplemental irrigation is expanding into more humid areas. Waterpower and, later, hydroelectric site developments were major bases for industrial development.
Within this context, Alberta has its own unique water systems. The province has only two per cent of Canada’s fresh water supply, yet in drier years the province is responsible for more than 50 per cent of Canada’s consumptive demand. To explain, consumptive water use refers to consumption of water that diminishes the source at the point of appropriation. More than half of Canada’s irrigated land and most of her secondary recovery of the oil and gas (involving the pumping of water into geological formations to replace these fuels) are in Alberta. Substantial expansion of bitumen development, involving evaporation of large quantities of water from the tailings ponds, might increase Alberta’s share of Canadian consumptive demand. The problem is accentuated since almost all of the irrigation, urban and industrial demand and some of the mining demand is in Southern Alberta, while most (87 per cent) of the water supply is in the North, draining into Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico). Moreover, by agreement with the governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Canada, one half of Alberta’s southern flow is allocated for downstream use. In the near future, dry-year demand may exceed supply and political pressure for massive inter-basin transfers is growing.
As European and American settlers arrived in Alberta – speeded up by the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) – they initially used simple mechanical systems to divert water for irrigation from streams and rivers. In the 20th century, electric and hydraulic systems greatly increased the sophistication and efficiency of agriculture.
The mean annual basin yields of Alberta’s 14 river basins, in millions of cubic metres, are as follows:
1. Bow River basin: 4,060
2. Oldman River basin: 3,540
3. Red Deer River basin: 1,960
4. Lower South Saskatchewan basin: 100
5. South Saskatchewan River basin: 9,660
6. Milk River basin: 196
7. Battle River basin: 293
8. North Saskatchewan River basin: 7,530
9. Beaver River basin: 599
10. Athabasca River basin: 23,500
11. Peace River basin: 70,500
12. Slave River basin: 112,000
13. Hay River basin: 3,510
14. Liard River basin: 960
Most of these basins drain in a north-easterly direction, with four major rivers collecting the water. Peace and Athabasca River are heading north and draining in the Arctic Ocean while North and South Saskatchewan River are heading east and draining in Lake Winnipeg and Hudson Bay. The smaller Beaver River in east-central Alberta flows into the Churchill system and then Hudson Bay, while the southern Milk River heads south-east into the Missouri River and to the Gulf of Mexico. This is because of a historical curiosity which took place as the United States and Great Britain were drawing up boundaries between the two countries, negotiations which were finally completed in 1818.
The controversy goes back to the Treaty of Utrecht, which was signed in 1713 as the line separating French possessions in Western Canada and Louisiana to the south, and British territories which had been assigned to the Hudson’s Bay Company in the North. When the French sold their North American territories to the United States in 1818 – an event known to history as America’s Louisiana Purchase – the agreed border was the 49th parallel.
While the survey crews that eventually firmed up the border in that pre-GPS age created a border that was anything but a straight line, given the tools of the day they did not do a bad job. But the geography of the area was such that the Milk River became “the only river in Canada to flow into the Gulf of Mexico drainage basin,” explained John Dormaar in a well-researched study. This is because both the North Milk River and the Milk River rise in the eastern slopes of Glacier National Park, Montana. “Although the Milk River has its source in the United States and indeed does flow northeast into Canada, it eventually returned southeast to the United States to join the Missouri River near Fort Peck, Montana.” Thus the convention of 1818 arbitrarily divided a significant and interesting natural ecological area between Alberta and Montana.
International politics and conventions were thus behind this excellent outcome for the province of Alberta. A significant portion of Alberta’s Milk River basin has been turned into Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, because over time a variety of Aboriginal groups and others carved petroglyphs of many kinds into the areas sandstone cliffs. In this small area there is more rock art in anywhere else in Alberta – indeed, anywhere else in the Great Plains. It isn’t clear why but, Dormaar wrote, “at Writing-on-Stone we have a sacred landscape if one takes together the River, the strange hoodoo outcrops, the maze of cliffs, nooks and crannies, and the overpowering presence of the Sweetgrass hills to the south as one package. These hills are one of the most powerful locations within the sacred geography of the Blackfoot.”
A landmark year was 1670. That is when King Charles II issued a “grant” (in effect, articles of incorporation) for the Company of Gentlemen Adventurers Trading into Hudson Bay. The grant went to his cousin, Prince Rupert, and a small group of Rupert’s business associates. Today known as the Hudson’s Bay Company or The Bay, that organization’s charter provided for a monopoly over trade in the lands fed by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. The equivalent of 40 per cent of modern Canada that vast territory was known as Rupert’s Land until after Confederation. It was history’s largest private commercial empire.
To manage such a huge trading area required a well-capitalized organization (the Bay’s initial capital was £10,500) and permanent business operations. Before the creation of the Bay and a few other seventeenth century trading companies, British “venturers” had generally financed each business expedition (for example, the voyage of a trading vessel) separately. The Bay thus represented a new, continuous approach to enterprise, and reflected an important advance in the business entity.
Alberta’s most southerly river systems are part of the Hudson Bay watershed, although water from the northern two-thirds of the province flows into the Mackenzie River Basin. The Mackenzie drains into the Beaufort Sea. However, Aboriginals from all of present-day Alberta quickly developed trade routes to Hudson’s Bay Company “factories.” The Bay’s factories were trading posts at which Aboriginals and the British exchanged pelts for such manufactured goods as axes, beads, broadcloth, brandy, knives, guns, lead and gunpowder. This commerce usually required long, strenuous and frequently dangerous journeys by canoe through white-water rivers and the muskeg of the Canadian Shield.
The beaver pelt was the common currency in these transactions. Early factory books recorded transactions according to “Goods Expended p. Weight Value into Beavor [sic] Amounts” and “Goods Expended p. Number Value into Beavor amounts.” For a century and a half, the standard of currency was the “Made-beaver” — a prime quality skin from an adult animal.
It was to the Bay’s York Factory (in the northeast of today’s Manitoba, on the shores of Hudson Bay) that accounting in Alberta can trace its symbolic roots. In an entry to his log on June 12, 1719, the trading post’s “factor,” Henry Kelsey, wrote that a man named Wa-Pa-Sun had brought him a sample “of that Gum or pitch that flows out of the Banks of the River.” The Cree warrior had delivered a sample of bitumen from a seep along one of northeastern Alberta’s rivers.
Why is this incident significant to Alberta’s accounting profession? First, the fact that this indigenous man possessed a sample of bitumen leaves little doubt that he was trading fur from present-day Alberta. And the trading results of that expedition were dutifully noted in the accounts delivered to the Bay’s head office in London. For the first time, in other words, goods known to have originated in today’s Alberta formally entered a bookkeeper’s ledger.
This episode has a second level of historical significance. The delivery of that sample to a British explorer, diarist, trader and bookkeeper led to the first written record of Alberta’s Athabasca oil sand deposit — the world’s second largest hydrocarbon resource, and today the source of 15 per cent of Canadian oil production. As we shall see, Alberta accountants would make substantial contributions to the practice and theory of oil and gas accounting.
For 100 years after Kelsey’s encounter with Wa-Pa-Sun, traders of European origin ventured progressively farther into Western Canada to increase the trade in pelts. They established trading posts throughout the northern portion of the continent. While these men were known collectively as coureurs des bois (“runners of the woods”) because so many came from Québec, many also hailed from Scotland, Ireland, the United States and British colonies in North America. The most famous of them all was a Scot, Alexander Mackenzie.
The first European to cross North America from east to west and the first to travel the Mackenzie River to its terminus at the Beaufort Sea, Mackenzie was a key shareholder in the Montréal-based North West Company. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, that company engaged in a fierce trade war with the Bay. The sometimes-violent conflict was resolved in 1821, when the two companies combined.
The new entity kept the Bay’s name, but increasingly moved its trade to England through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, rather than through the drainage systems that flow into Hudson Bay. Some 65 years later, the St. Lawrence trading system would be extended by rail to the Pacific. And that trading system — it stretched from Québec City to Vancouver — would become the backbone of Canada as a modern state. The implication, of course, is that Canada was constructed upon a trade route – a route that was extended by many thousands of miles in the 1880s by a visionary railroad. Commerce is at the core of the nation.
England and other European states issued monopoly charters for more than a century. The purpose of this practice was to encourage European trade and territorial expansion. Serving as the original articles of incorporation of Hudson’s Bay Company, the company’s Royal Charter set forth the framework for its governance – by a committee of seven, headed by a governor and a deputy governor – as well as, for example, the frequency of elections and meetings. In it the King names his “dear and entirely beloved cousin” Prince Rupert as the first governor of the territory, henceforth to be known as “Rupert’s Land.”
The charter gave the Company control of all lands whose rivers and streams drain into Hudson Bay - all told an area comprising over 1.5 million square miles, stretching from Labrador in the east as far west as the Canadian Rocky Mountains and well south of the present U.S/Canada border. It represented more than 40 per cent of modern Canada. Today, of course, Alberta is a small part of the original grant. Only the rivers in the southerly half of the province flow to the northeast, ultimately emptying into Hudson Bay.
The North-Western Territory was a region of British North America until 1870. Named for its whereabouts relative to Rupert’s Land, the territory at its greatest extent covered what is now Yukon, the mainland Northwest Territories, northwestern Nunavut, northwestern Saskatchewan, northern Alberta and northern British Columbia. Some of this area should properly have been part of Rupert’s Land. It ended up in the NWT because of inaccurate maps.
The map illustrates how Alberta’s southerly rivers – with the exception of the Milk River – flow east by northeast toward a vast system of lakes in central Manitoba. Ultimately, these systems drain into Hudson Bay through the Nelson River.
Yet the longest river in Canada is the Mackenzie, which covers a distance of around 1,800 kilometres. It begins at Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories and flows north into the Arctic Ocean, discharging 306 cubic kilometres of water per year (including 100 million tons of sediment). It is the main stem of the second largest river system in North America (after the Mississippi-Missouri watershed). It is the fourth largest of all river systems discharging into the Arctic Ocean; the three largest are in Russia. The entire system extends 4,250 kilometres and drains 1.8 million sq. km. It includes three major lakes (Great Slave, Great Bear and Athabasca) and numerous major rivers (such as the Peace, Athabasca, Liard, Hay, Peel, South Nahanni and Slave rivers).
The rivers in Alberta’s northerly watershed empty into the Beaufort Sea via the Peace and Mackenzie rivers. The Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories is a historic waterway, used for millennia by the original Dene as a travel and hunting corridor. It is part of a larger watershed that includes the Slave, Athabasca, and Peace rivers extending from northern Alberta.
The first permanent European settlement in Alberta put its roots down in 1795, with the founding of Fort Edmonton, near present-day Fort Saskatchewan. In the early 19th century, HBC moved the fort to near what today is the site of the Alberta Legislature. The fort served as headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s North American fur trade operations in the vast Saskatchewan District of Rupert’s Land. The first settlement outside the fort was in the 1870s, with pioneer farmers living in log cabins along the river. These farms formed the structure for the 1882 survey of the land into “River lots”.
“1885 Street” at Fort Edmonton Park represents the early hamlet of Edmonton. The Town of Edmonton was established in 1894. The town encompassed modern Boyle Street (the original downtown) and McCauley neighbourhoods. The first outpost of The Hudson’s Bay Company was named Edmonton House in honour of the Company’s Deputy Governor Sir James Winter Lake’s manor in a town in England of the same name.
In 1870, the Hudson’s Bay Company had been granted a reserve on much of the present downtown, but by 1913, the peak of the World War I land price inflationary boom, it was all sold off. Edmonton got its first railway in 1903 when a branch-line from Calgary via southside Strathcona was built to cross the Low Level Bridge. Edmonton became a city in 1904 and shortly after, with a mere 5,000 people became Alberta’s capital. With the new land west of Queens Avenue (modern 100 St) available to the city, the city grew tremendously, and Boyle Street was abandoned as the downtown for the new, current downtown. Many new communities like Glenora, Highlands, and Westmount were built in this time as the economy started to gain momentum. And during the early 1910s, Edmonton grew very rapidly, causing rising speculation in real estate prices. In 1912, Edmonton amalgamated with the city of Strathcona, south of the North Saskatchewan River; as a result, the city extended south of the river.
It is unclear exactly when Great Britain first asserted sovereignty over the territory; however, after France accepted British sovereignty over the Hudson Bay coast by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Great Britain was the only European power with practical access to that part of the continent. Long before Britain assigned governance of the North-Western Territory to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1859, the company used the region as part of its trading area. In the 1780s, Peter Pond began trading furs with the Athapascan-speaking Dene of the rivers.
In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to travel and map the river, following its torrent to the Arctic Ocean. The watershed thus became a vital part of the fur trade. At that time the river was the only communication link between northern trading posts and the south. Water travel increased in the late 19th century as traders, dominated primarily by the Hudson’s Bay Company, looked to increase water travel along the Mackenzie.
A Hudson’s Bay Company sternwheeler steamer, the SS Grahame, made its first trips on the Athabasca and Clearwater Rivers in 1884 marking the arrival of sternwheeler travel to the area. The trip from Athabasca to Fort McMurray was both adventurous and dangerous. First scows and, later, paddle steamers had to traverse the Grand Rapids.
The Canadian Northern Railway arrived in Edmonton in 1905. In 1919, rail reached Lynton and pushed through to “Old Waterways” (now called Draper) in 1921. Rail service from Lac La Biche and Waterways was largely built across muskeg – an unstable material which led to frequent derailments.
Another 1921 milestone was Imperial Oil’s decision to fly two all-metal, 185-horsepower Junkers airplanes to the Norman Wells oilfield, which is also located on the McKenzie River. The story behind this event goes back to Alexander Mackenzie’s 1789 exploration of the river, and his observation of oil seeps.
In 1911, northern businessman Jim Cornwall also saw oil on the river and hired a local Indian named Karkesee to look for seepages. Karkesee found several, from which Cornwall collected samples. Analysis found it to be a high-quality light crude, rather than bitumen.
Cornwall formed a syndicate with two Calgary businessmen and the group engaged T.O. Bosworth, a prominent petroleum geologist, to study the area. During his 1914 study, Bosworth staked three claims on behalf of his backers and reported enthusiastically on the area’s prospects. The outbreak of World War I put a halt to plans for development. By the end of the war, Imperial Oil owned the Bosworth claims, which were near the Arctic Circle, high up north on the river.
During the Second World War, Norman Wells gained importance as a source of oil for military operations in Alaska and the Yukon. When Japan captured two of the Aleutian Islands, Americans grew concerned about the safety of their oil-tanker routes to Alaska. They began looking for an inland supply of oil, safe from attack. The United States and Canada negotiated to build a refinery at Whitehorse, Yukon, with crude oil to be supplied by pipeline from Norman Wells. This spectacular project took twenty months. Construction involved, 25,000 men, eleven million tonnes of equipment, 1,600 kilometres of road, 1,600 kilometres of telegraph line and 2,575 kilometres of pipeline. Dubbed Canol, the name was a contraction of either “Canadian oil” or, more likely, “Canadian American Norman Oil Line.” Estimates of the project’s cost range up to $300 million, in as-spent dollars.
The pipeline network consisted of the 950-kilometre crude oil line from Norman Wells to Whitehorse and three lines to carry products to Skagway and Fairbanks, Alaska, and Watson Lake, Yukon. The purpose of the Canol road and pipeline project was to enable the piping of oil to Whitehorse, with the flow starting in 1944. Although Norman Wells crude was light and flowed easily at temperatures as low as −62 °C, the line did not work well and was shut down shortly after the war ended.
In 1886, the S.S. Wrigley was launched on the other side of these rapids, at Fort Smith, and for the first time a steam-driven vessel operated on the Mackenzie River as far as Aklavik in the river delta – just before it spilled into the Arctic Ocean. A series of small portage trails enabled travellers to skirt the 26-kilometre rapids between Smith’s Landing (later Fort Fitzgerald) and Fort Smith. In the 1920s, upgrades made this into a full road.
In the summer of 1898, many adventurers left Edmonton in the hopes of making it to the Klondike Gold Rush, which had become an international obsession the year before. The idea was to go north down the Mackenzie, then take a variety of rivers and land routes to get to the Klondike. A few were successful on this journey. The vast majority simply gave up.
During the next few summers, these waterways were busy. Many new vessels plied the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers. In 1908, the Hudson’s Bay Company launched the S.S. Mackenzie, the river’s first steam-powered shallow-draught sternwheeler. In the 1920s, police, church missions, government agents, oil and mining companies, prospectors, and competing fur trade interests descended on the Territories. As a result, water transportation boomed. The Hudson’s Bay Company, Lamson & Hubbard Trading Company, Alberta & Arctic Transportation Co., and Northern Traders Company each operated a fleet of steam vessels.
A series of amalgamations and takeovers left only two main water operators after 1924: the HBC and Northern Traders Co. which later became the Northern Transportation Company Limited (NTCL) in the 1930s. The HBC continued in the business of transportation in conjunction with serving its own posts through Mackenzie River Transport, until 1947 when it got out of public freighting. The S.S. Distributor, built in 1920 by Lamson & Hubbard, was the flagship of the HBC on the Mackenzie River for more than 20 years. Communities such as Waterways (now Fort McMurray) and Fort Smith served as shipyards along the Athabasca and Slave Rivers.
Diesel and gasoline-powered tug boats replaced steam-driven vessels in the 1930s and 1940s. The Northern Transportation Company Limited inaugurated a new fleet of steel-hull, diesel tugs in 1937, and the Hudson’s Bay Company and its transportation arm, Mackenzie River Transport Limited, got out of the common carrier business in 1947. The last steam-propelled sternwheelers, the S.S. Distributor and S.S. Mackenzie, retired around that time.
The Mackenzie Highway, built between 1945 and 1948, originally ran from Grimshaw, Alberta, through to Hay River, NWT. The highway followed a winter road cut through the bush in the spring of 1939 to Hay River in order to supply the gold fields across Great Slave Lake at Yellowknife. The westward section around the southwestern end of Great Slave Lake to Wrigley on the Mackenzie River was built between 1972 and 1976, but not completed until 1994.
Eighty kilometres northwest of Enterprise, a ferry connects with the highway to Yellowknife, and connecting roads to the east serve Fort Resolution and Fort Smith. The section from Enterprise to Hay River is now a separate highway. First built as an all-weather road, some of its length has been paved. With a total length of about 1,200 kilometres, the Mackenzie Highway is the principal land route into the NWT. With its construction, the importance of the Athabasca-Slave River route dwindled. Operations for Northern Transportation Company Ltd. focused in Hay River in the 1970s. The northern barge traffic is still essential to the heavy freight as fuel, food, and heavy equipment can be moved economically in the summer months to communities along the Mackenzie River and oil fields of the Beaufort Sea.
Established as a trading post by Peter Pond of the North West Company in 1788, Fort Chipewyan is one of the oldest European settlements in Alberta. The fort was named after the Chipewyan people living in the area. In a masterful book on the community, academic Patricia McCormick describes the northern town in 1909. “The flotilla of steamboats and scows at Fort Chipewyan and Athabasca Landing made it possible to import a plethora of attractive trade goods and reduce the backbreaking labour associated with transporting furs upriver to Athabasca Landing, at least for the Hudson’s Bay Company.”
In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, steamboats paddled from the Rocky Mountain falls at Hudson’s Hope to Fort Vermilion, where there was another set of rapids. Other steamboats plied the lower Peace below the rapids from Vermilion to Lake Athabasca. The Peace is part of the Mackenzie Basin, a vast river complex which includes the Athabasca, Slave, and Mackenzie Rivers. At Grand Rapids and Fort Smith, large rapids made travel by these vessels impossible, so that river too was sectional, with boats working upper and lower sections.
Steamboats provided transport to move food and supplies in and wheat and livestock out the 800 kilometres of the Peace and the 400 kilometres of the Athabasca. The Catholic mission at Dunvegan ran the first sternwheeler, the St. Charles, in 1902. Built for Bishop Émile Grouard, her primary purpose was to aid him in his missionary work. She also carried goods for the North-West Mounted Police and the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1905, the HBC launched a sternwheeler named the Peace River. Built at Fort Vermilion, this 34-metre vessel could carry about 36,000 kilos of freight, and worked on the Peace for ten years.
Trips up and down the river would take several weeks, depending on conditions and sand bars. Steamboats had a limited season, often making only making three or four trips a year before winter cold made the rivers impassable. Boats did not travel at night due to limited visibility. Wood was the traditional fuel, and these sternwheelers could burn as much as three or four cords of wood per hour. Paying passengers had no guarantee of a leisurely trip; although contractors were hired to cut and stack cordwood along the river, the sternwheelers often burned wood in such enormous quantities that the passengers would be called into service and set ashore with crosscuts and axes to replenish the supply.
Development came late in the Peace River country, which opened up to settlers about 1910. However, steamboats quickly followed. To illustrate their rise and fall, it is worth considering the steamship D.A Thomas. Soon to become Baron Rhondda of Wales, Thomas funded construction of the 51-metre leviathan in 1915.
A British Isles coal baron, Thomas wanted to exploit the coal and oil deposits of Chetwynd, a district in the Rocky Mountains of northeastern British Columbia, near the headwaters of the Peace. To a large degree, the venture failed because the First World War fundamentally altered the pattern of settlement in the area. Many of the British men already in Canada joined the Allied forces, and the war itself slowed in-migration to a trickle. There was little industrial development in the western provinces during the war. Although strapped for labour, existing mines could meet new demand.
The war over, the D.A. Thomas steamed up and down the Peace until the late 1920s, but the expansion of rail into the area finally rendered her uneconomic and obsolete. In June 1930 she took the drop over the Vermilion Chutes, suffering some damage on the rocks, and then limped on to Fort Fitzgerald. There, she was dismantled and scrapped with parts being used for other purposes, including storing grain. 
The arrival of the Model T Ford, bulldozers and gravelled roads finished the river steamers in the Peace River Block. Also, the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway worked its way to BC and arrived in Dawson Creek in 1930, completely doing in the steamboat era. Farther east the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway bypassed the worst rapids on the Upper Athabasca River by rail and thus made Waterways, or modern Fort McMurray, the transport head for the Peace and Athabasca Rivers. Other Railways—the Central Canada and Pembina Valley—tried to alleviate transport woes but became weakened by the Depression and were not completed.
Smaller boats of various kinds continued to work on the Peace for another 20 years, but the age of steamboats was gone. The final commercial freight run up the Peace River was made by the Watson Lake, a steel-hulled vessel, in September 1952. Her last trip completed, she was hauled out of the water and loaded on a flatcar and shipped by rail to Waterways to continue work up north. The US Army built a diesel paddler for tug service on the Peace River in 1942 as part of the war effort. The vessel worked on the raising of the Peace River Bridge, which was part of Alaska Highway construction.
As settlers poured into Canada’s west, they established farms and the growing villages, towns and cities. They tapped shallow aquifers for well water, yet simultaneously constructed outhouses on their property. One result was the spread of disease, and the need for technologies to provide clean water.
Individual landowners responded with the introduction of indoor plumbing and the installation of septic tanks and, where groundwater was unreliable, cisterns to store rainwater. Towns and cities developed increasingly sophisticated waterworks and sewage treatment facilities.
At this writing, though, one-third of Canada’s First Nations residents consume water that threatens their health because of water systems from obtain water from high risk treatment plants and pipe networks. The report specifically cites three reserves in Alberta as having the most hazardous water supplies: Beaver Lake 131; Ermineskin Cree Nation and Saddle Lake Cree Nation.
“Location, location, location” is the real estate agent’s mantra, and it has always been so. As with so most of the world’s cities, access to water determined Calgary’s water location. For centuries Aboriginals had been attracted to the meeting point of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. During the harsh prairie winters, the swift-flowing Bow River – fed by meltwater from glaciers in what is now Banff national Park – did not freeze completely. Here bison came to winter, and humans followed in search of food, water and shelter.
Settlers and missionaries arrived in the early 1870s, followed by the North West Mounted Police in the summer of 1875. Even the name given to the fort the following year – Calgary – is connected to water, both historically and etymologically. Named for Calgary Bay on Scotland’s Isle of Mull, Calgary was long believed to be Gaelic for “clear, running water.” Linguistic research later revealed that meaning as “Bay Farm” or “preserve pasture at the harbour.”
In the middle of the nineteenth century, railroads financed by British capital began transporting people and goods in central Canada and the Maritime colonies. Nova Scotia had a flourishing shipping industry, but the other colonial economies were mostly based on agriculture and the export of raw materials to the British Isles. The North American colonies felt reasonably secure in the shadow of Britain’s economic and naval might.
This outlook changed with the American Civil War. During that terrible conflict, British sentiment favoured the Confederacy. This gave a boost to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the belief among Americans that the destiny of the United States was to govern the entire continent. After its 1865 victory, the Union did not quickly decommission its large armies. Many eyes in the republic were looking north.
As the bloodshed was ending, Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Québec) made an appeal to England. A political coalition asked Whitehall to create out of Britain’s North American colonies a sovereign country with close ties to London. Westminster responded with the British North America Act. Confederation united Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Québec and Ontario in 1867.
Led by Sir John A. Macdonald, a Conservative, the newly minted federal government began a grand project to combine British North America into a governable whole. The chosen vehicle for the western portion of this undertaking was a railroad that would connect the commercial centres of Québec and Ontario with British Columbia and points between. That railway was the Canadian Pacific (CP).
In late 1869, Canada’s federal government acquired the Hudson’s Bay Company lands in Western Canada. Manitoba and the colony of British Columbia entered Confederation the following year, and Prince Edward Island in 1873. To maintain order and assert sovereignty over the new western territory, in 1873 Ottawa created the Northwest Mounted Police (today the RCMP). In Canada’s prairies, law and order therefore preceded settlement — quite unlike much of the experience in the American frontiers.
To tie a ribbon of steel from Canada’s commercial heartland to her western coast, the federal government used land grants and other concessions to encourage the creation of Canadian Pacific, a railway to the Pacific coast. That enormous enterprise, which arrived in today’s Alberta in 1883 and was joined to the coast three years later, removed the major impediments to settlement in Canada’s west.
Before the coming of the railroad, small numbers of settlers had arrived in Alberta by canoe, horseback and cart. Their numbers stood at only about 1,000 in 1881. Ten years later, the non-Indigenous population had increased to some 17,500.
By the time the Canadian Pacific Railway reached the young community in August 1883, Calgary’s population had swelled to about 400. A little over a year later, on November 12, 1884, this boom town of tents, shacks and log cabins was incorporated as the town of Calgary. “The railway contributed first to the flourishing of a cattle kingdom in the West; later, to its disintegration. In 1882 surveyors staked a line across the prairies, avoiding the deep coulees and steep grades close to the river and tactfully skirting the northern edge of the Siksika reserve,” according to an environmental history of the Bow. “The next summer gangs of tracklayers hammered their way across the prairie, laying the rails as fast as any track had ever been put down and then more slowly as they pushed the railway up into the mountains” along the river’s banks. “Operation of the railway greatly expanded the market for western beef on the hoof as well as the local market for slaughtered cattle,” the authors continued. “But the Canadian Pacific Railway, a large, capital-intensive, technologically advanced corporation with its own needs, labour requirements, economic imperatives, and differential influence over decision-making in Ottawa, by degrees restructured life on the prairie away from the north-south axis of police posts and ranches to an east-west line of small towns strung along the railway and centred on Calgary.”
At this early stage, Calgarians were able to draw water directly from the Bow and Elbow Rivers, or from wells that tap natural springs in what are now the Inglewood and downtown districts. By the mid-1880s, Teamster Jack Brennan offered Calgary’s first water distribution service. Brennan filled a galvanized iron tank from his well opposite time all, mounted on a horse drawn cart, and delivered water door to door for $0.25 a barrel. Barbershops offered “hot and cold shower baths,” since few residents had such conveniences in their own homes.
The provision of water should have been of paramount importance for the new town’s administration. With a growing population and a developing municipal infrastructure, Calgary would soon require a system of waterworks for domestic use, street cleaning, sewer flushing, and – above all – fire protection. Like other pioneer towns, Calgary was mostly built of wood. Without a ready supply of water, the town would be left vulnerable to fire; insurance companies would consider Calgary to be a bad risk, and fire insurance would be exceedingly expensive.
The federal government wanted to fill the prairies with productive farmers, and it took the energetic leadership of Clifford Sifton to make that happen. By background a Manitoba lawyer, from 1896 to 1905 Sifton was Canada’s immigration minister under the Liberal government of Sir Wilfred Laurier.
A number of factors contributed to Sifton’s remarkable success. He encouraged major recruitment drives for settlers in Britain and Ukraine, whose “stalwart peasants in sheepskin coats” he believed would be well suited to breaking the prairie to the plow. The Canadian Pacific Railway also recruited settlers. Railroads cannot be profitable without goods or people to transport, and the CPR intended to move both.
Another factor that helped encourage settlement was the closing of the US frontier. Lured by the promise of 160-acre homesteads for males of 18 years or more, Americans and people from other countries who had first migrated to the United States began moving into Canada’s prairies. In addition, the development of strains of wheat that could mature quickly increased the agricultural potential of the prairies. These factors and a generally strong economy opened the floodgates of settlement. Canada’s frontiers began retreating to the north.
Growth and prosperity characterized the final years of the century. This prosperity was partly driven by technology, which was lowering the cost of almost everything — from raw materials to manufactured goods to basic transportation. Locomotives began pulling long trainloads of settlers, their effects and supplies into Alberta.
Historians refer to the seven-decade period that began in 1890 as Canada’s Great Transition — the era in which the country developed into a mature nation-state. Much of that evolution was driven by events in the prairies. Between 1891 and 1914, an estimated 215,000 men, women and children migrated to Alberta from Britain, the United States and continental Europe (especially Ukraine). Central and Eastern Canada contributed an additional 90,000.
Alberta’s former Lieutenant Governor, Grant McEwan, was among the settlers of that day. He was a charming man and an extraordinary raconteur: I once sat with him at a head table, before he gave a passionate speech reflecting his deep concern about the environment. With masterful effect, he ended his presentation with deep emotion; after he had finished, a sense of profound concern seemed to hang about the room.
A brilliant and prolific author, McEwan published his 48th book in his 97th year, although he didn’t live to hold a copy in his hands. A man who strongly impressed everybody who ever met him, in 2000 he received the first state funeral held in the province in four decades.
The book bore the title Watershed: Reflections on water. “The world’s water appears to be in a constant state of uneasy movement,” it begins. “It moves in great haste like the Slave River Rapids of Northern Alberta, and at the incomprehensibly slow pace of groundwater seeping through silt or sand deep underground in southern Saskatchewan. Sooner or later it will reach the junction in the water cycle and start all over again, undiminished and unchanging, the perfect symbol of timelessness.”
“Water was puzzling and mysterious when I was growing up,” McEwan wrote as he provided his own growing understanding of the hydrological cycle. “But water is everybody’s business – or should be,” he continued. Water “is the foundation, the building block of life; without it, vast areas of country would be unproductive, supporting other plant and animal life. The human body’s dependence on it is evidence of that as well. We begin as almost pure water. The human embryo is almost ninety percent water; during childhood, however, water content falls to roughly 75 percent of total body weight, and by adulthood has dropped to 70 percent or less.” But to put those volumes in perspective, he observes that an adult male of 78 kilos in weight carries more than 45 kilos of water. “As a matter of routine,” he wrote, that’s “a considerable burden at any time.”
Settlers who discovered a groundwater spring on their homesteads “knew that they were very lucky, wrote Grant McEwan. “Celebrations of thanksgiving were in order, especially when the water was a good quality.” What they most worried about was alkali water, which was high in concentrated sodium- or magnesium-based chemicals. If this was the water they had been dealt, they were victims to its laxative qualities. It was “one reason why newcomers to the prairies, who had no choice but to drink this water, had difficulty in obtaining a good night’s sleep.”
The farmer who was unhappy with the paucity of water in his well, or its high concentration of alkali, had little for relief that didn’t involve hard labour. The immediate solution was to haul household drinking water from the freshwater well of a neighbour who had been “lucky in his strike.” This arrangement that was satisfactory for a short time, “but the necessity of hitching a team… driving several miles with a barrel of water was bound to become tiresome,” McEwan wrote. “Invariably, the farmer’s decision was to call a government well-drilling team to return for another attempt to find the ever-elusive” fresh groundwater. After securing water supplies, new arrivals cleared forests and broke sod to start farms.
As they confined livestock with barbed-wire fences, they began closing in the prairie. They operated vast ranches, reporting financial performance back to absentee owners. They set up shops and stores. With an eye to exporting grain and beef, they developed granaries and stockyards. They established breweries and other manufacturing operations. They provided services like blacksmithing, milling and construction. Doctors, dentists and lawyers began hanging up their shingles. Accountants started looking after the affairs of young enterprises and new agencies of government.
The region’s hotels were sometimes unable to accommodate the swarms of people being discharged at crowded train stations. The real estate market went from strength to strength. Religious life flourished around the churches springing up everywhere, and schools began to educate the young. Government and municipal buildings went up in larger centres. Civic life became more sophisticated. Theatres and rodeo created the beginnings of an entertainment industry.
The year 1897 began a period of railroad building gone mad. Line construction fleshed out the CP system and eventually created two new transcontinental railways — the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk. Central Canada’s railways were already mature, so crews laid the lion’s share of new rail in the prairies. The Prairie Provinces soon boasted a dense complex of trunk and branch lines serving an expanding cereal economy. Hamlets, towns and cities sprang up around railway stations and along feeder lines.
Though especially strong in Western Canada, growth was remarkable Canada-wide. With the buoyant optimism that was characteristic of the times, in 1904 Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier made an oft-quoted prediction to Ottawa’s Canadian Club: “All signs point this way, that the twentieth century will be the century of Canada.”
In the west, the symphony of growth reached a crescendo in 1905, when an act of Parliament welcomed Alberta and Saskatchewan into Confederation. The new provinces were heir to British traditions of law and corporate governance, and organized around a parliamentary form of government. The province’s first premier was Alexander Rutherford, a Liberal. One of the early acts of Alberta’s government was to create a charter for the University of Alberta, to be located in the City of Strathcona (now part of metropolitan Edmonton).
Such technological marvels as electricity and automotive power began gracing the land. The prairies were already connected to the world by telegraph, and local telephony was making an appearance. So was electric lighting (hydroelectric plants began to appear in Alberta in the late 1890s). And the first recorded automobile trip from Edmonton to Calgary (a two-day journey) took place in March, 1906.
Coal mines in southern Alberta were supplying rapidly growing demand. In the beginning, the market included coal-fired locomotives and the occasional steam tractor; industrial furnaces, fireplaces and stoves; utilities that manufactured coal gas. Coal would be the province’s primary energy source until the middle of the century, and is still a major export.
Many settlers were somewhat aware of Alberta’s oil and gas potential. Around the then-hamlet of Fort McMurray (a remnant of the fur trade), Aboriginals had known long before Wa-Pa-Sun about bitumen seeping into the river. By the turn of the century, a few hardy souls were already trying to coax oil from surface outcrops of this apparently boundless resource.
The town of Medicine Hat developed gas for light and heat in the 1890s, and a local brick-making industry grew around gas-fired kilns. And by 1909, Eugene Coste (often called the father of Canada’s natural gas industry) was in London to raise funds for a natural gas pipeline to the bustling city of Calgary. When the 274-kilometre line was completed three years later, natural gas would begin replacing coal gas and pot-bellied stoves in Alberta’s second-largest city.
This period of sustained economic growth grounded the economy in agricultural exports. But as homesteaders were breaking the soil, urban construction and development were proceeding apace. Entrepreneurs and the town of Medicine Hat were already beginning to exploit the petroleum resources that would eventually displace agriculture as the prime source of provincial prosperity. Even tourism had begun. To lure wealthy tourists, in the mid-1880s Canadian Pacific began constructing hotels in the Rockies.
The province’s agricultural economy was still small and prey to endless natural disasters — early frost, grasshoppers, hailstorms and, in the south, drought. But the settlers still felt that opportunity abounded. Economic expansion released an unstoppable sense of optimism into the air. The experience of helter-skelter growth made everything look possible.
The first generation to go by the name Albertans, these settlers were astonished at how quickly the streets of new villages, towns and cities filled with horses and wagons. Dazzled by the first of many booms, they correctly believed growth would continue unabated for many years to come.
Within weeks of Calgary’s incorporation, the newly-formed town Council received a proposal from the Waterous Engine Works Company to install a waterworks system for the new town. Judged too expensive, the proposal went nowhere. “A suitable system of waterworks for this municipality is without our reach at the present time,” reported the Committee on Fire, Water and Light in January, 1885. Council decided instead to install a system of wells at key downtown intersections for use by the newly-established Fire Brigade.
Over the next few years the town installed larger underground tanks wells sealed with pitched wooden cribbing. The town fire engine pumped Bow River water into the tanks. Council later approved construction of a windmill-powered well next to the Fire Hall on 7th Avenue. But the town-operated system continued to provoke criticism until 1891, when it was replaced. There was a story behind that.
“Calgary’s worst nightmare came true on Sunday, November 7, 1886,” author Harry Sanders wrote. At that time fire broke out at the rear of Parish and Sons flour and feed store. “The flames spread quickly, and before the end of the day a large portion of the downtown lay in ruins. Although a constant supply of water was available from the tank and railway grounds, it wasn’t enough….”
“The Great Fire of 1886 pointed out the immediate need for a pressurized water system,” he continued. “A further imperative was health: without provision of adequate sewer and water, it was feared the water table would become contaminated from ‘sewage and wash and slops.’ Before an adequate sewer system was installed, wells were threatened by pollution from cesspools, privies and open street drains.”
The waterworks system could be “… an exceedingly profitable source of municipal revenue,” editorialised the Calgary Herald on November 20, 1886. “The convenience of being able to procure any quantity of water at a moment’s notice right in one’s own house by simply turning a tap is so obvious, that once introduced it ceases to be a luxury and becomes a necessity.” The newspaper continued that “builders will soon arrange for the pipes in new houses as naturally as for the chimney.” In comments that probably did not reflect who made key decisions about household decisions, the editor said “a man will no more think of holding his water in buckets from the nearest well, than he would of lighting his house with tallow candles.”
“Falling water has always excited the emotions,” Christopher Armstrong and H.V. Nelles wrote in their commentary on the development of hydroelectric power along the Bow River. From time immemorial, they wrote, “thundering waterfalls and rolling rapids filled hearts with both dread and wonder.” They believed such fearsome places, “where missteps could lead to death, were surely the abode of the gods.” Christians often believed waterfalls “were sites of revelation where God made manifest his enormous power, casting human pretensions in his full perspective. For millennia, human beings approached waterfalls with a sense of fear, all and wonder.” 
That was then, however, and this is now. In recent centuries, the power of falling waters “stirred another human emotion, ambition.” It stirred notions about how to use water power for utilitarian purposes. Gradually, mechanical engineers found physical uses for waterpower as they looked for ways to use that energy, which was going to waste in conspicuous display, “for productive human ends.” Put another way, there was a genie in a bottle. Driven by the growing prosperity wrought by the Industrial Revolution, early engineers sought ways to employ that genie in the service of humanity, for the sake of profits. “Millers led the way, creating millponds and re-channeling flows in ever more efficient ways to turn their waterwheels and crank their machinery.” 
In Europe and the Americas, electrical power generation through steam power and hydraulic systems was well understood and widely exploited commercially by the beginning of the twentieth century. Large corporations produced, sold, and installed the equipment to generate, transmit, distribute, and consume electricity for a variety of purposes: domestic, commercial, electromechanical, industrial, and traction. Following the relentless logic of greater profitability, electrical systems and generation facilities sought ever-larger power sources to generate electricity at the lowest cost and the highest efficiency.
Other forms of industrial development began a century ago, when speculation about mastering the kinetic energy released by water falling from mountain lakes along Alberta’s southern border with BC led to plans to electrify the province. For decades, the province and Ottawa were in conflict on matters of regulatory control.
Immigration and settlement into Alberta continued as the twentieth century, and the explosive population growth in urban centres drove the demand for electricity. Between 1901 and 1911, Calgary’s population increased from about 4,400 to nearly 44,000. Coupled with the city’s close proximity to the powerful water resources of the Rockies, this population growth, made Calgary the epicentre of early hydroelectric development in the province.
The city’s first plant was nothing like the mega-projects that would characterize hydro later on. It was a small shack-like building constructed by the Calgary Water Power Company in 1893. This two-storey structure spanned the south bank of the Bow River and Prince’s Island, just north of downtown Calgary. The system required a weir – a barrier which altered the flow of the river and pooled water, channelling it into the plant. Originally constructed to supplement the company’s wood-fuelled steam plant, the system later powered a generator. In 1894, the Calgary Water Power Company received a ten-year monopoly to provide the city with electricity.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Alberta experienced one of its first great economic booms, with Canada’s business community seeking investment opportunities. One key area of investment was the development of hydropower.
By 1905, existing facilities and infrastructure could not meet Calgary’s demand for electricity. Hydroelectric power was still the cheapest option available, and the region needed all it could get. New corporations entered the race to develop southern Alberta’s hydro potential. To provide Calgary with badly needed electricity, in 1911 Calgary Power completed the province’s first larger-scale hydroelectric plant at the Bow River’s Horseshoe Falls, eighty kilometres from Calgary.
In 1907, Calgary businessmen W. M. Alexander and W. J. Budd formed the Calgary Power and Transmission Company and negotiated the right to build a hydroelectric plant at Horseshoe Falls and signed a contract to deliver electricity from the project to Calgary by 1909. The two men had severely underestimated the project’s costs and engineering challenges, however, and were unable to meet their commitments. In the end, they sold the company and its associated rights to financier Max Aitken stepped in and purchased the company (and its associated rights).
Not yet thirty years of age, Aitken “had already ascended the heights of Canadian finance capitalism, earning a reputation along the way as one of its sharpest, most aggressive, and slightly slippery company promoters.” Later knighted Lord Beaverbrook, he had “an indomitable will to succeed, a salesman’s counter-jumping enthusiasm, a rare zest for life, and a relentless focus on the business at hand.”
Though slow and plagued with challenges, the plant went into operation in May, 1911. The Horseshoe Hydroelectric Dam’s turbines gave the facility a peak capability of 14,000 kilowatts. That much power provided the growing city, which now hosted repair facilities for the Canadian Pacific Railway, with cheap and plentiful power. Four other plants would later join this facility on the Bow River watershed.
In August 1919, James White delivered an important paper to an industrial congress in Calgary. His general topic was the availability of power in Alberta, in terms of water, coal and natural gas. He begins with comments on the hydropower potential of the rivers flowing northward from Alberta. These included the Elbow, the Bow, the North Saskatchewan, the Athabasca, the Peace and the Slave rivers. Both White’s supporters and his critics described White as a “bright, ambitious, and single-minded man devoted to the sustainable management of Canada’s natural resources…whose geographic knowledge of Canada was unsurpassed.” Though brief, this piece of work is more than a footnote to history. His commentary and his influence contributed to the mastery of hydropower in western Canada’s rivers, which soon began along the Bow River.
Citing the popular belief at the time that “water-power is inherently cheaper than steam-power,” and it requires few attendants and no fuel except for heating in the plant, White demurred. “Usually the cost of development and installation is much higher than with steam-power,” he said. Also, the location of the “water-power plant is fixed by nature. This lack of elasticity necessitates, on average, a longer transmission line to transmit” the current. “Also, the service is less reliable owing to the possibility of lack of power due to unusually low water conditions.”
More efficient and capable of development on a larger scale and able to be sourced at distance, hydro power displaced such mechanical technologies as coal-powered systems at the end of the nineteenth century. The physics of electricity became understood in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At the end of the nineteenth, tinkerers like Edison and Tesla, then electrical engineers and capitalist entrepreneurs took it on themselves “to work out, manufacture, and distribute the integrated [systems needed] to produce, transmit, and then use electrical power.” These developments were transformative. They allowed power generation “in one place but consumed with minimal transmission losses dozens, hundreds, and eventually thousands of kilometres away. Previously, energy users had to locate themselves at sources of power, or power production had to take place close to sites of consumption. Long distance transmission broke the bond between production and consumption. Henceforth, industry did not have to go to power; power came to industry.”
This system rechannelled the kinetic energy of falling water into electricity-powered machines all over the world. “Waterfalls went silent,” the authors wrote, and the dams holding the water back converted vast quantities of hydraulic energy were into electricity “to light up the night, energize factories and transportation, and perform a host of mundane domestic tasks.” These new hydroelectric tools, which “subjugated falling water and transformed hydrology, took root nowhere in the world more firmly than Canada, with its abundant and widely distributed waterpowers. Canada quickly became one of the most aggressive developers of hydroelectricity in absolute quantities, on a per capita basis, and as a proportion of its total energy production mix.”  Canada still has that international ranking.
Eventually, southern Alberta did, too. Beginning with Horseshoe Falls, the first Bow River projects became fully functional during the First World War – one result of which was economic growth in the area well above the national average. During the Roaring Twenties, which was another period of economic growth and high migration into the prairies, the systems on the river doubled in capacity. Development stopped with the Great Depression, though, and didn’t pick up again until the early 1940s. Rapid growth continued through the 1950s, then came to a halt during the following decade. “By then,” after all, “the Bow, like many other rivers in Canada, had been dammed, plumbed, machined, and wired to its maximum, and Calgarians, along with other Southern Albertans, would have to look elsewhere to satisfy their electricity dependence.”
One of the more memorable stories in electrification politics had to do with the notion of creating a national hydroelectric grid, which surfaced in the mid-1970s. In many ways, the situation reflects a kind of dysfunction which has often revealed itself in Canadian politics, and reflects the division of powers provided by the 1867 British North America Act (Canada’s constitution) and its 20 successors.
The division of powers between the provinces and Ottawa has led to numerous skirmishes between the two levels of government over the last 150 years. In the most recent legislation, the federal government has jurisdiction over marine transportation and waterways that cross provincial boundaries, especially in respect to environmental law, while the provinces have control of water resources within their own territories. That said, the act proclaims that it wants comprehensive programs undertaken by the Government of Canada where Canada has jurisdiction and by the Government of Canada in cooperation with provincial governments, “ in accordance with the responsibilities of the federal government and each of the provincial governments in relation to water resources, for research and planning with respect to those resources and for their conservation, development and utilization to ensure their optimum use for the benefit of all Canadians.”
Jurisdictional disputes have often taken place within Canada based on different interpretations of federal and provincial rights and, of course, on struggles based on the needs and perspectives of different political parties. Take as an example the attempt to integrate provincial power systems in the 1970s, after a cartel of national monopolies known as OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) became the most powerful player in setting world prices.
A First Ministers Conference on Energy in January 1974 began discussions on the creation of a national energy grid, which would supplement energy from imported oil. The idea was to construct an east-west line from Selkirk, B.C., to Eel River, New Brunswick, but not to improve transmission lines to the US. Two years later the provinces appointed an advisory council (on which the federal government had observer status) to study the matter. Its report came out in 1978.
The economic benefits of the system would “derive from replacing oil-fired generation with less costly hydro generation, the reduction of generating reserve, the diverse use of generating equipment across different Canadian time zones, the enhanced security of supply, and a flexible response to changing energy policy,” wrote Karl Froschauer in his authoritative study. There were other issues at play, however. For example, there were questions about whether enhanced north-south electricity trade would be a better deal for Canada. And then, of course, there was the matter of who would be in charge. There would no doubt be a need for an organization to administer such a system, and – an issue which had been at the centre of a conference on the same topic in Victoria 16 year earlier – “which level of government would have jurisdiction over a national grid.”
The notion of a national grid fell apart, and the provinces tried to develop regional grids. The Western Canadian portion of this initiative began in April 1978 at a Western Premiers conference in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Plans for a western power grid – connecting the power systems of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba – were announced, with an economic analysis that suggested that such an undertaking would benefit the provincial economies. A technical review team established to study this project concluded in February 1979 “that substantial benefits would flow from the interconnection of the four provinces.”
Once again, however, political and private interests diverged and the plan collapsed. First off the mark was British Columbia. The province’s utilities were sceptical and the Social Credit government of William (Bill) Bennett – said the report “presented insufficient grounds to participate.”
Alberta’s government also commissioned a review of the grid report, and the outcome was confirmation that the regional interconnection of electrical systems was a good idea. So Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba signed a Western Electric Power Grid study agreement in March, 1980. Based on technical information supplied by provincial utilities, the resulting report estimated that a regional grid would yield a net benefit of $150 million. Furthermore, construction of the Limestone hydro project then under development on the Nelson River in Manitoba would be less harmful to western Canada’s environment than the coal-fired thermal plants proposed for Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Then things took an ugly turn. Speaking from an economic perspective, it became clear that building the hydro plant in Manitoba would increase investment and employment in that province. It would reduce investment and lessen employment in Saskatchewan and Alberta. The latter province – which had the largest population and the most developed economy of the three Prairie Provinces – would have to buy the lion’s share of the electricity.
Despite a soupçon of farce, matters then quickly fell apart. In October 1981, Manitoba and Alberta announced that the Energy Ministers for the prairies had reached an accord. Saskatchewan, however, claimed that they had not, and negotiations went from bad to worse. Put off by the prospect of lower employment and deferred investment during a period of economic downturn, Alberta and Saskatchewan postponed participation in a western power grid. Manitoba signed an export contract with the Northern States Power Corporation of Minneapolis in 1984, selling electricity from the Limestone project. Alberta became interested in developing the hydro potential on the Slave River.
This is how the dream of a national power grid broke down.
One outcome will be a decline in vehicle ownership, and therefore of vehicle manufacture. Another will be fewer emissions. A third will be lower operating costs. As the chart shows, this trend – both disruptive and environmentally positive – is growing rapidly, with Tesla vehicles leading the pack.
For now, plug-in hybrids like Chevy Volt make sense in Canada because of distances and “range anxiety.” But in a sharing/rental environment, you would only need hybrid or conventional vehicles for longer trips and could rely on all-electrics most of the time. Similarly self-driving vehicles would be preferred for commuting and humdrum urban transportation, but you still might want to take the wheel for longer trips. The first transition in much of the country would be from multi-car to one-car households. The second would be to substantial numbers of car-free vehicle households, completely reliant on shared or rental vehicles.
“We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history. By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model we call ‘transport-as-a-service,’” wrote economists James Arbib and Tony Seba. This disruptive development “will have enormous implications across the transportation and oil industries, decimating entire portions of their value chains, causing oil demand and prices to plummet, and destroying trillions of dollars in investor value — but also creating trillions of dollars in new business opportunities, consumer surplus and GDP growth.”
There is “overwhelming evidence,” they go on to suggest, that emerging system dynamics “will create a virtuous cycle of decreasing costs and increasing quality of service and convenience, which will in turn drive further adoption” of self-driving vehicles. “Conversely, individual vehicle ownership, especially of internal combustion engine vehicles, will enter a vicious cycle of increasing costs, decreasing convenience and diminishing quality of service.”
To the extent these forecasts are accurate, perhaps, Canada’s hydro-electric potential will benefit.
More than 300 rivers and lakes lie along, or flow across, the Canada/US border. This has a lot of implications for the relationship between the two countries. For one, there are complex water management issues. For another, it makes the likelihood of trans-national distribution and sale of these resources sometimes seem inevitable.
That concern stood behind the headline,”As long as the rivers flow, they’ll try to dam them!”, which blared out of an indigenous publication in 1992. According to the lengthy commentary, during the late 1950s and early 1960s a group of business and government officials had a “pipe-dream” that since Canada was “the last haven of clean fresh water, it would be quite feasible to divert the clean, fresh water south to the United States. The initial outcry from the general public was enough to put the project on hold.”
As a result of “exploiting and misusing their water supply and water tables,” the US was experiencing an internal water crisis. In 1964, the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) a Los Angeles-based engineering firm proposed efforts “to divert massive amounts of Canadian water to the US.” In 1965, it continued, a letter from the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources University of Alberta assistant professor of geography Louis Hamill confirmed that the federal government “was aware of the NAWAPA plan and its costs and effects on the environment.” Along with other Canadians across the country, Aboriginals protested this scheme.
For example, in August 1990 a group of Peigan[§] Aboriginals – they called themselves the Lonefighters – “made camp near the Oldman River, which has sustained the cultural and spiritual life of the Peigan people. In 1976 the province of Alberta had announced plans to build a dam on the Oldman. The idea was shelved due to public outcry. In 1984 it was announced that the dam would be built. The dam will flood 5,800 acres, the habitat of deer and prairie falcon. Herons and some large cliff swallow will disappear. Over 300 archaeological sites and 46 historic sites will also disappear.” To the Peigan, he wrote, the river is more than a source of food and water. “It is Napi, the Old Man, the creator.”
Several years of litigation in the 1980s and 1990s led to a federal court of Canada ruling that the project had not received a proper environmental assessment. The facility’s proponents duly completed the assessment, and the dam went into operation in 1991. Since 2003, ATCO has operated the Oldman River Hydroelectric Plant at the dam. Twenty-five per cent owned by the Piikani Nation, the plant’s average annual generation is approximately 114 gigawatt-hours per year. The reservoir created by the dam and the surrounding area has become the Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area.
In a 1985 summary, Anthony Dorcey prepared a concise summary of the causes of water pollution, describing the issue throughout Canada in stark terms. To one degree or another, each illustration applies somewhere in Alberta. “Water pollution can be classified according to the nature of pollutants, to the sources releasing them and water bodies into which they are discharged,” he wrote. Where they exist, pathogens – disease-causing microbes (usually from human sewage) – are a big risk to human health. The greater their concentration, the greater is the risk.
Biochemical oxygen demand is created by organic wastes decaying in the water body. Major sources of this problem include pulp and paper mills and municipal sewage. If the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water reaches zero, fish and other aquatic species die. Anaerobic decay can generate noxious gases like hydrogen sulphide.
Nutrients, particularly in nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich waters, accelerate problems within lakes and streams. They can result in rich plant growth, which can reduce recreational activities. Plankton blooms in the water can further depress oxygen levels. These nutrients come from municipal sewage, urban runoff and agricultural waste. In his commentary, Dorcey describes numerous approaches to pollution control.
These worries seem never-ending. For example, in a 2015 editorial, the Globe and Mail noted that Canada is a nation of resources, first and foremost. “We dig them, pump them, cut them, crush them, grow them and export them,” the newspaper wrote. “They are a huge part of the economy and a massive wealth generator.” Echoing the same themes that have appeared so often in this manuscript, the newspaper opined that “the country’s most valuable resource of all – water – is the least discussed and most misunderstood. Even acknowledging water’s potential economic value has become taboo for politicians and policy-makers.”
In today’s Canada, water export is “a political no-go zone. Ottawa and most provinces have banned bulk exports,” and most Canadian residents oppose it, too. “Selling it to the most obvious customer – the United States – is largely prohibited under various trade deals and treaties. Even absent those hurdles, piping or shipping vast quantities of water isn’t economically feasible,” the editor wrote. “And yet Canadians would be wise to prepare for the day when a thirsty and desperate world wants something that we have in abundance,” according to this thoughtful commentary. “It’s time for the country to explore the issue, accurately quantify and measure the water resources we have, and then determine how much we can withdraw from various waterways without harming the environment. There should be strict rules governing its use, inside the country or for export. And water pricing needs to better reflect its value.”
Two siblings – the phenomena of global warming and climate change – are forcing the debate on Canada, as they are on the rest of the planet. While floods seem to be increasing common and severe in some areas – Alberta is one of them – many parts of North America are experiencing drought, shrinking reservoirs and depleted groundwater. Canada already exports massive quantities of water. Water is embedded in various agricultural and other products domestic industries sell to the world. Now, to what degree can we share our abundance with the world?
Many countries have far greater water resources per capita than Canada. For example, Greenland and Iceland have tiny populations and vast glaciers. On the other end of the climatic scale, Guyana, Suriname, Papua New Guinea and Bhutan have small populations in tropical climates with endless downpours. Their per capita water resources are thus greater than those of Canada and other geographical giants.
The best way to understand Canada’s water resources is to place it among its peers. The table does so – it is a variation on the chart presented on page 20 – by adding a per capita water resource calculation. The result? Although in absolute terms among the world’s large countries Canada’s water resources are the fourth largest in the world, in per capita terms they come out on top. Within that context, it is a matter of concern that even parts of Canada are facing water problems. There is an irony that southern Ontario, which is immediately accessible to three of the Great Lakes, is one of those areas. Less surprising is that the Prairie Provinces are being affected. In this study, the situation in Alberta is the focus.
Economically advanced countries and their freshwater resources; per capita calculations added.
Country Total Water Resources Average Precipitation Per Capita
1 Canada 2,902.0 km3/year 5,352 km3/year 80,183.0 m3
2 Russia 4,508.0 km3/year 7,855 km3/year 29,989.0 m3
3 Brazil 8,233.0 km3/year 15,236 km3/year 27,470.2 m3
4 United States 3,069.0 km3/year 7,030 km3/year 8,837.8 m3
5 China 2,738.8 km3/year 5,995 km3/year 2,061.9 m3
Although large-scale water trade between Canada and the US has never taken place, the issue does not go away. For example, the late Alberta premier Peter Lougheed told the Globe and Mail in 2005 that “the United States will be coming after our fresh water aggressively in three to five years. We must prepare, to ensure that we aren’t trapped in an ill-advised response.”
Part of that preparation took the form of economic arguments about the very nature of water. Here are some views from economists in respect to trade in water, which appeared in 2007. The ideas in their Government of Canada briefing note fed into the question of whether water could be tradable.
“The Great Recycling and Northern Development (GRAND) Canal and The North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) distribution network are well known examples of bulk water export schemes proposed in the 1960s,” they began, echoing concerns about projects mentioned in the Lonefighters National Communication Network commentary. If implemented, they said, such projects would involve the diversion of hundreds of cubic kilometres of water from Canada to the United States each year.
Noting the common fear in Canada that such international agreements as the North American Free Trade Agreement could force this country to allow the sale of our water to the United States, they argued that trade agreements by their nature can only apply to goods, services, and commodities. “Water is not a service, although it may be used to provide services,” they wrote. In small quantities – for example, a bottle of drinking water – it may be described as a good. “But we are not concerned with small quantities.” The real question was whether bulk water is a commodity. If not, then the NAFTA agreements do not apply.
“This briefing note explores whether water is a commodity,” they continued. “Given the lack of precedents in common law, it approaches the question through economic theories, provincial policies and the evolution of water law in Western Canada.” A commodity is an economic good, a tradable good, a product or an article of commerce, they wrote – “something for which there is an established market where the commodity can be bought and sold in commercial transactions” between willing buyers and sellers.
As owners of the resource, Canadian provinces have tried to find a balance between the essential services water provides and its value as an economic input. In some provinces, legislation “appears to allow for the commoditization of water under certain circumstances, marking an evolution from riparian rights, to prior allocation, to management of a scarce resource.” Other provinces – Alberta, for example – “allow access to water in rural areas for domestic use and family agriculture without the need for a licence, as an essential service. However, licences are usually required for larger volumes for industry and agriculture. In Alberta, water use licences can be traded, giving water some of the characteristics of a commodity.”
Water exports are exported once they have been put in containers and sold. There is no restriction on the location of use of bottled water. If someone wished to export bottled water from Canada for washing cars or filling swimming pools, they might be thought of as eccentric, but it would not violate any contracts, policies, agreements, or legislation. “Should bottled water be distinguished from larger containers, such as a tanker, pipeline, or even an open canal?” they asked.
It is difficult to find arguments under trade law why the size of the container would allow a government to prohibit export. If a company exporting bottled water in the containers used in typical office water coolers “decided to export by truck or tanker – or even by pipeline or canal – how would governments control the situation? The policy issue is the terms and conditions under which export is permitted regardless of container size.”
With respect to bulk water export, the issue has still to be resolved as a matter of trade, “despite a large volume of speculative literature. A commodity under NAFTA and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is a legally negotiated position and not necessarily dependent on the economic definition.” To date there has not been a ruling by a court or trade panel on whether water is a commodity and thus the legal question of whether water is a commodity cannot yet be answered with certainty. It should be noted that Canada, the United States, and Mexico released a joint statement to the effect that water was not covered by NAFTA, but such a statement may have little legal force, even though a court might consider it to be indicative of the intent of the governments. Should water be ruled a commodity in the future, Canada may find herself legally bound to export the stuff.
In 1987 the government of Alberta did issue construction permits on the Oldman River Dam, despite declarations by the Environment Council of Alberta that existing reservoirs and canals in the area would suffice to serve farmers in the Oldman River Valley. It is suspected that the project is export oriented because it is unnecessary for irrigation and was included in a 1979 memo that illustrated a ten stage plan for inter-basin transfers: The Oldman River Dam appeared to be stage one.
In a complex hydro-economic report, three academics with a keen interest in water conservation argue – not for the first time in these pages – that “to support the ecological services that underpin our quality of life, Canadians must limit their demands for water and start protecting existing water sources.” To do so, they argue, will ultimately involve redesigning our communities.
Responding to the risks involved in potential water shortages, they wrote, requires changing behaviours and attitudes write Oliver Brandes, David Brooks, and Michael M’Gonigle. “But with change comes opportunity. The new script will be about innovation and new relationships with our surroundings.” Those opportunities include using technologies that enable toilets to “use half the water they now use (or even no water at all);” recycling waste water for other uses; and turning water guzzling lawns into gardens based on native, drought-resistant plants. “Ultimately, our communities must be designed for water conservation – not just retrofitted when we approach water limits.”
Such changes would not come about quickly. They would need careful planning, based on “transitional steps. First, we gain time by changing from supply management to demand management. Then, we begin to address deeper concerns about the fundamental nature of the demands themselves. This moves us to a new stage – the ‘soft path,’ where water is viewed primarily as a service rather than as a product,” they propose. “Water conservation then moved to centre stage, triggering a fundamentally larger societal transformation. This transformation is about a new way of dealing with water, nature, and ourselves – ultimately, it is a form of participatory management called ‘ecological governance.’” Gradually, they argue, ecosystem health and processes would be important considerations “at all levels of decision-making, both upstream and downstream and throughout the watershed.” Thus, the shift from “supply-side management to the soft path” would follow “a spectrum of water management approaches that move us from compulsively getting more resources to thoughtfully governing resource uses.… Taken together, these sequential yet overlapping steps represent a strategy that ensures a paradigm shift from wasteful to sustainable consumption of fresh water in Canada.”
In increasingly integrated economies, firms or investors can acquire water by investing in the assets to which it may be linked. For instance, outside investors may purchase irrigated land with integrated water rights, or – directly or indirectly through anonymous stock market transactions – through buy valuable water rights or water access. Investors may move their water-intensive production facilities away from water-scarce and toward water-abundant areas. They can do this by expanding or relocating irrigated agriculture, by processing agricultural foods, by pulp and paper manufacturing and, as we have seen, by hydro-electric and thermal electricity generation. Thus, Canadians should expect to see relative shortages or scarcity of water in any region of North America result in changes to the patterns of ownership and location of water-using production facilities.
Changes in the relative scarcity or abundance of consumer goods can affect water resource use and management in integrated economies. It is therefore important to pay attention to the concept of “virtual,” or “embedded,” water: the water that is necessary to produce commodities. Economist Theodore Horbulyk, an economist who specializes in water consumption, says the production of the world’s food supply uses 70 times more water than does the water consumed by the planet’s households.
“Future shortages in global food markets may start to put upward pressure on the prices of water intensive commodities such as food grains,” he says. “This will translate into increased competition for water resources in food producing countries such as Canada. In a world that will be adjusting to global climate change or imbalances in population growth and economic development, increasingly open and active commodity trading systems and trade agreements” should increase the transmission rate at which these shortages reach users of domestic water resources. “These linkages work in both directions,” he says. “Changes in world commodity trade can increase competition for domestic water resources.” Moreover, effective water management can influence Canada’s trade volumes and international competitiveness.
To illustrate external economic pressures on water resources, he says, “Consider the water storage for hydroelectric generation in southern Alberta. Historically, water was impounded in the summer months and released to generate electricity for local markets in the winter months, when seasonal energy demand was greatest.” In recent years, summer seasonal energy demand has surpassed that in winter, even in local electricity markets. What is more, the expansion of the continental distribution grid means that California’s energy demands and US energy regulators, for example, have increasing influence in decisions about how Alberta’s dams will be operated. “If the operators of hydroelectric storage facilities see high spot market prices for electricity in the summer months, and if there is sufficient electricity transmission capacity available to reach those markets, then these operators may spill more water from storage reservoirs through their generators,” according to Theodore Horbulyk. “In this example, electricity market forces elsewhere on the continent have the effect of raising Alberta’s river flows and of making more surface water available downstream in the summer months, when that water can provide much higher value to irrigators and environmentalists alike.”
Historically, he says, “There have been no water markets with similar enabling institutions to which either the irrigators or the environmentalists can turn to achieving equivalent transactions directly within their own province,” but this is changing. “Trade-related competition for water resources will not only be related to irrigation and manufacturing; water-based tourism, fishing, recreation, and travel.” Water use also reflects “trade in services.” In practice, this means competition for water resources might represent increased demand for ecological and ecosystem uses of water. International trade agreements that include environmental safeguards restricting water uses in other countries may add pressure on demand for Canada’s water.
Of course, Canada is a water-rich country, as these pages have repeatedly shown. Water and sanitation in developing countries may seem far removed from the situation in Alberta and the rest of Canada, but it is a fundamental need for almost half the world. Recent estimates have it that 1.8 billion people are drinking fecally contaminated water and 2.4 billion do not have access to adequate toilets.
“It is cheaper to make water better: bad water and sanitation currently impose an unnecessary cost of $323 billion a year on households outside the advanced economies,” according to a post on the Alberta Water Portal. “The same money could be used to improve public water and sanitation systems.”
Speaking about the global situation, the authors assert, as does CAWST, that “solving water for all is a race against time: The cost of coping with inadequate access to water – through packaged water purchases, home water treatment, and tanker deliveries is growing much faster than utility investment.” Innovation is the key. “We need to innovate around the business model and the technology: good water and sanitation are both affordable – even for the very poor. What stands in the way of universal access is often the lack of appropriate and affordable service choices on offer. The paper suggested that we need to look at micro-credits, decentralised systems, value from waste technologies, utility performance programmes, smart networks and micro-utilities too.”
Based on simple, low-cost systems developed by an engineering professor at the University of Calgary, a group of individuals formed a Calgary-based charity, the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST). In essence, this was an effort to take Canada’s good fortune to the many nations where shortages of clean water for drinking and sanitation are the root of suffering and sickness.
This dates back to the efforts of Dr. David Manz – formerly a professor at the University of Calgary – who created a simple and inexpensive water filtration system known as the biosand filter. This led to the creation of a Calgary-based charity known as the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, in a somewhat convoluted way.
CAWST addresses the need for safe drinking water and sanitation by building local knowledge and skills on household solutions people can implement for themselves. That model was born out of Calgary’s engineering know-how and business acumen.
The charity’s co-founder, Camille Dow Baker, spent more than two decades as an executive in the international sector of Calgary’s oil and gas industry, which exposed her to the poverty in many of the developing nations in which her company was working. After graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering from McGill University, Baker worked in the petroleum industry for over 20 years in executive positions with a variety of Calgary-based oil companies served on the board of directors of the Alberta Oil Sands Technical Research Authority.
As a career change she sought to apply engineering principles to the problem of supplying clean water and sanitation worldwide, and enrolled in the Masters Environmental Science Design programme at the University of Calgary. She undertook her master’s project on biosand filter technology with Manz, and in 2001 they co-founded CAWST to transfer these technologies to poor countries.
In strategic terms, the basic concepts behind the organization are simple, but powerful. “With the right knowledge and skills anyone, anywhere can take ownership of their own water, sanitation and hygiene,” the organization’s website claims. People need “to take action in their homes and neighbourhoods, builds resiliency, and ensures appropriate solutions for the local water context.” The charity works with local organizations and governments best suited to provide quality water and sanitation services, building “the skills and knowledge of water and health practitioners to start, strengthen and grow their water, sanitation and hygiene services.”
Today, CAWST has one of the strongest water and sanitation technical teams in the international development sector, with particular expertise in decentralized water and sanitation options and capacity building of field workers. CAWST does not implement water and sanitation projects or fund projects directly. Instead, it builds the capacity of local organizations to provide water and sanitation services to their own communities. To appreciate the importance of the work the organization is doing, consider the following:
· An estimated 842,000 people die each year due to preventable diarrheal disease; 43% are children under the age of five.
· Chronic diarrhea and intestinal worms in children, mainly from inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene, cause half of global malnutrition and one quarter of stunting.
· Waterborne diseases cause children to miss school, adults to lose income (they have no paid sick days), and pregnant women and newborn babies to face serious health risks.
· In many parts of the world, girls and women are at risk of sexual violence when they go out at night to find discrete places to relieve themselves.
These are some of the reasons unsafe water and inadequate sanitation contribute to poverty in much of the world. To illustrate the magnitude of CAWST’s impact over time, the organization says it has provided 13,100,000 children, women and men with better water or sanitation. It has trained 6,600,000 people in the use of its technologies. And some 6,500 organizations – Rotary clubs, for example – have supported CAWST projects, in 164 countries.
Meanwhile, global population stands at more than seven billion and continues to grow. The result is that the world is short of grains to reduce widespread starvation. Alberta could play an important role in ameliorating this situation, since its agriculturally productive regions are shifting northward (because of global warming), and the province has large supplies of fresh water.
Water use and consumption increased in Alberta throughout the twentieth century. Besides being essential for life and sanitation, it plays important roles in many aspects of manufacture, for example. To ensure adequate water supply and reduce the risk of flooding, some cities constructed large reservoirs. Calgary’s Glenmore reservoir is a good example. Constructed by damming the Elbow River during the Depression, it became an important recreational area (fishing, boating, hiking, birding) as well as a reliable source of water.
After a century of petroleum development and the associated impacts it had on the petroleum industry, in recent years responsibility for management of Alberta’s water supplies was recently ceded to the Alberta Energy Regulator – an organization established after 1930, when the federal government ceded ownership of the bulk of Alberta’s mineral rights to the province.
The National Resources Transfer Acts gave natural resources over to the control of the Prairie Provinces. One of Alberta’s first actions was to establish its own Forest Service and reaffirm that the forest reserves in the headwaters of its prairie rivers were to be managed to protect water supplies. During its first two decades, the Eastern Rockies Forest Conservation Board was one of federal-provincial collaboration, wrote Kevin van Tighem, which made headwaters protection its “top priority.”
“The return of Alberta’s headwaters to full provincial control seemed promising at first,” he continued. “A new Progressive Conservative government, led by Calgary lawyer Peter Lougheed, had won the 1971 election. Faced with competing views about the highest and best use of public land,” Lougheed’s government launched public hearings in 1973. The following year, the province’s newly established Environmental Conservation Authority released recommendations for land-use and resource development in the Eastern Slopes that, yet again, emphasized watershed values, he continued. “The government responded to the recommendations by setting up a Resource Evaluation and Planning division in 1976, and issued the landmark policy for Resource Management of the Eastern Slopes a year later.”
“That policy again put watershed protection first in priority above all other uses, aggressively prescribing the kinds of activities and developments permitted in each land-use zone.” However, the heads of government department and business lobby groups soon began asking for fewer restrictions. The result? The business-oriented Progressive Conservatives released a more development-friendly version of the policy in 1984. “Even with new loopholes for exploitation of wood, gravel, oil and gas and other resources, the revised Eastern Slopes Policy once more affirmed watershed protection as the highest policy priority,” Tighem said. Then, 30 years later, “the South Saskatchewan regional plan replaced the Eastern Slopes Policy, but not its priority for watershed health.” With the wryest irony, he wrote that “with so much emphasis on watershed values over most of the last century, one might expect the headwaters of our prairie rivers to be in good condition and our water future secured. One would be wrong.”
In a recent report on water use at the beginning of the 21st Century, Alberta Environment described the uses for water that result in it being removed from the water cycle. “These include the deep well disposal of industrial wastewaters,” the department wrote. Other water uses include washing salt caverns from underwater salt deposits, and for the enhanced recovery of oil through water and steam injection. For these and other uses, the operator requires a license.
At the time, Alberta Environment issued licences for water use in Alberta and kept records of the water allocated. Water allocations were based on the expected maximum amount that an applicant might require, and they were often greater than the volumes actually used. To illustrate, up to yearend 2001, Alberta had allocated more than 9.4 billion cubic metres of water annually for a variety of uses. Allocations from surface water sources accounted for 98 per cent of this total; groundwater sources, the rest.
Of those volumes, oil and gas sector licenses represented 4.6 per cent of total allocations, with about two per cent allocated for water and steam injection operations. By comparison, the agriculture sector (including irrigation) received the largest allocations, at approximately 46 per cent. Municipal water supplies accounted for 11 per cent.
Of the total provincial water allocations, the oil and gas sector used less than half of one per cent for water and steam injection processes (enhanced oil recovery). At that time, the amount of water used for these purposes declined from 88.7 million cubic metres in 1973 to 47.5 million cubic metres in 2001. A great deal of that water was not potable. While 37 million cubic metres of the total was fresh, 10.5 million was salty and/or brackish.
According to Alberta’s Water Act, agricultural, industrial, municipal and other non-domestic water users must apply to Alberta Environment for a licence to divert and use an annual allocation of water. Allocations reflected the 1894 “first-in-time, first-in-right” principle, for both surface and groundwater resources. This principle in effect honours the seniority of the license. Households that are not part of a municipal water system can use up to 1,250 cubic metres of water per year, from any source (well, stream or lake) accessible at that location. Household water use is a statutory right and has the highest priority of all water diversions. Before it will approve an application to divert water, the department wrote, it “reviews the application to ensure existing water users’ rights are protected, that water is available to meet the needs of the applicant,” and that diversion would have minimal impacts on the aquatic environment.
This provincial commentary reflected a 2002-2003 public consultation called Water for Life: Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability. According to the department, people at the hearings expressed concern that population growth, droughts and agricultural and industrial development were putting greater pressure on Alberta’s water supplies. While the report reiterated that the quantity of water used for enhanced oil recovery represented a small and declining portion of available supplies, there was a lot of concern about enhanced oil recovery removing water from the hydrological cycle. In addition, the report said, there were disparities between the resources of farmers and industrial users to look into the future.
Throughout the 1990s the pace of industrial, agricultural and municipal development in Alberta was strong, with the result that the provinces fully allocated water rights from many rivers – particularly in southern regions of the province. These developments also put pressure on groundwater and surface water resources in areas of intensive energy development. Further, there were consecutive years of drought in 2000-2001. The world was becoming increasingly aware of a future in which the unpredictable impacts of global warming/climate change on the planet’s future, and many pressures began to stress the importance of reducing per unit water consumption during petroleum consumption.
Alberta’s approach to dealing with these issues took the form of a strategic plan which went under the moniker Water for Life: Alberta’s Strategy for Sustainability. This non-binding strategic plan outlined Alberta’s vision for water management, which centred around three primary goals: safe, secure drinking water; reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy; and healthy aquatic ecosystems. The strategy laid out short-, medium-, and long-term implementation targets that were to extend over a ten-year period. To achieve these goals, Water for Life focused on research and the acquisition of data and knowledge; the implementation of water conservation measures; and, the establishment of three kinds of multi-stakeholder partnerships: the Alberta Water Council; Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils; and Watershed Stewardship Groups.
This effective initiative summarized its results in typically bureaucratic words. “Water for Life was created through a consultative process involving key stakeholders,” said the executive summary of the final report. “The process had three major components: idea generation; public outreach and consultation; and a ministerial forum on water. The idea generation stage took place in March and April of 2002. Follow-up public consultation occurred across the province through 15 community workshops. Public concerns also were captured during this process through 1,000 telephone surveys and 2,100 questionnaire-style workbooks.”
As the report continued, “A Minister’s Forum: Case Studies on Water took place in June, 2002 and involved 117 participants representing diverse water interests who attended at the invitation of the cross government working group. In small working groups and in open plenary sessions, the participants worked to review the input from the first two stages of the process and to discuss next steps and emergent priorities. After reviewing the outputs of all three rounds of consultation, a cross-ministry working group compiled and developed a draft water strategy, which was released for discussion in March, 2003. The final Water for Life Strategy was released in November, 2003.”
“Nearly 600,000 rural residents in Alberta depend on groundwater from a single well or aquifer for their household needs, and many farms also use groundwater to water livestock. In general, household and farm wells are not monitored for declining performance and users may not be prepared for fluctuations in water availability,” according to the report. By contrast, industry keeps a close eye on supply. Oilfield users maintain ‘standby’ wells that can be brought on rapidly if a casing or pump failure occurs, for example. “Industrial users monitor the performance of wells and aquifers frequently to ensure an uninterrupted water supply,” and some industrial operations ensure their supplies by building pipelines to rivers that can provide sustainable supplies during drought. Thus, “there is potential for conflict between individual water supplies and larger scale users.” Bigger operations can afford to drought-proof their water supplies.
Effective March 29, 2014, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) took over jurisdictional responsibility for water and the environment with respect to energy resource activities in Alberta from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Many people first heard the news of Alberta’s great flood from emergency broadcasts, as radio stations interrupted their regular programming with alerts that a sour gas leak in Turner Valley, near Calgary, presented a danger to the public. What began with a rainstorm soon became a national wake-up call about the inherent risks of hydrocarbon transport.
Torrents of water had scoured the pipelines, and a fracture in a Turner Valley line released a potentially dangerous amount of hydrogen sulphide. The operator quickly shut in the source, but the rains continued. Within days, Calgary and nearby communities found themselves inundated, with water damage that few people in the region had ever experienced.
The flood was hardly the first to hit Calgary. In June 2005, a major flood in caused the city’s reservoir to exceed its capacity. The excess spilled over the dam and into the river. The flow downstream increased from its normal average of 20-30 cubic metres per second up to 350 cubic metres per second.
The Alberta government estimated the floods in the area to be the heaviest in at least two centuries. One result was an Alberta Disaster Recovery Program. Based on a federal/provincial cost sharing agreement, it would assist municipalities with the costs they had incurred. The program covered the territory from Red Deer south to the US Border and from Crowsnest Pass east to Medicine Hat. Flood damage costs to the City of Calgary were estimated at $75 million, including $20 million to provincially held infrastructure ($7.5 million for Fish Creek alone). Some roads were closed and 2,000 Calgarians who lived downstream required evacuation. The Glenmore water treatment plant had difficulty treating the heavily silted water, which caused the municipal government to issue water restrictions.
Of course, this was hardly southern Alberta’s first flood. In the Glenbow Museum’s archives there are 120 photos of previous floods, dating back to 1897, and prompt evacuation by provincial authorities helped keep the death toll down. During the 2005 event, though, many people lost homes, businesses, vehicles and other private property.
In the days leading up to June 19, 2013, Alberta experienced heavy rainfall that triggered catastrophic flooding described by the provincial government as the worst in Alberta’s history. Water began to spill over the banks of the Bow, Elbow, Highwood, Red Deer, Sheep, Little Bow, and South Saskatchewan rivers and their tributaries. Thirty-two declarations of local emergency resulted in the activation of 28 emergency operations centres. As water levels rose, the province ordered people at risk in communities throughout the south of the province to evacuate.
Five people died as a direct result of the flooding, which displaced more than 100,000 people; 2,200 Canadian Forces troops were deployed to help in flooded areas, using Coyote reconnaissance vehicles, Bison armoured vehicles, G-Wagen Jeeps, and other military vehicles. Total damage estimates exceeded C$5 billion. In terms of insurable damages, at the time these floods were the costliest disaster in Canadian history, at $1.7 billion.[**] Receding waters gave way to a mammoth cleanup of affected areas, aided by a spontaneous volunteer campaign in which many home owners were assisted by complete strangers.
At the peak of the flooding, the Bow and Elbow rivers were flowing through Calgary at three times their peak levels from a 2005 flood, which caused $400 million in damages. By June 21st, the flow rate on the Bow River had reached 1,458 cubic metres per second – five times its normal rate for that time of year. The Elbow and Highwood Rivers reached flow rates of cubic metres per second (inside Calgary) and 734 cubic metres per second – ten times their time-of-year averages. According to data tracked by Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development,] “in the space of a day or two, the flows of the three rivers rocketed up five to 10 times their normal rates.”
The mountain towns of Banff and Canmore were cut off from neighbouring communities after flooding and mudslides forced the closure of the Trans-Canada Highway. Concerned about a planned release of water from the Dickson Dam into the Red Deer River, The City of Red Deer was the most northerly to declare a state of emergency during these times. Among other communities to declare a state of emergency was the Siksika First Nation – 95 kilometres east of Calgary, three kilometres south of the TransCanada Highway. In response to water damage to homes, the community evacuated 1,000 of its 6,000 souls.
As communities began to flood, displacing people in low-lying areas, area residents mobilized to offer support and assistance to evacuees and emergency response personnel. Volunteers and several police officers worked long hours to help evacuation efforts despite knowing their own homes had been damaged or completely washed away. While coverage of the flooding spread through social media sites, many people and businesses used Facebook and Twitter to offer accommodation and assistance to neighbours and strangers with inundated homes.
The city’s largest indoor arena, the Scotiabank Saddledome, suffered a great deal of damage with flood waters reaching the lowest ten rows of seats. Likewise the adjacent Calgary Stampede grounds – also severely flooded – less than two weeks before the opening of the city’s annual exhibition and rodeo.
Calgary’s central business district, home to most of Canada’s oil company headquarters, remained inaccessible until June 26th. Underground parkades were flooded, as was a natural gas-fuelled electricity plant. Imperial Oil, Suncor and other companies made arrangements to maintain essential operations, with employees working from other locations.
On June 27, the Bonnybrook railway bridge collapsed under the weight of a Canadian Pacific freight train. One of the pilings of the 101-year-old rail bridge had been scoured by floodwaters on the Bow River and undermined. The scouring took place under water, creating river conditions that prevented CPR officials from inspecting for damage. The buckled bridge caused the train to derail. As the train was carrying hazardous petrochemicals, authorities ordered evacuation for the local area and regions downstream. Slowly, operators pumped the rail cars dry, and then brought them back to dry land.
The city of Medicine Hat, located on the South Saskatchewan River downstream from the confluence of the Bow and Oldman rivers, was also hit with significant flooding. The city evacuated 10,000 residents ahead of the flooding, and facilities including the Medicine Hat Arena began to flood on June 23rd. The South Saskatchewan River peaked at 5,460 cubic metres per second at Medicine Hat – below some predictions, but still the highest water flow for that city on record.
South of Calgary, the town of High River was evacuated after flooding of the Highwood River caused water to rise over the top of vehicles in the town’s main streets and necessitated the rescue of over 150 people from the rooftops of their homes. 350 Canadian Forces personnel and 80 Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers were dispatched to assist with rescue efforts. Members of the Alberta Sheriffs Branch were also involved in this effort. All 13,000 residents of High River were ordered to evacuate on June 20, and the community was largely abandoned within three days as the town suffered what local officials called “unprecedented” damage.
Everyone who was there has a story to tell. Take Cam Moore, for example. He’s president of the geophysical contractors’ association. “[My wife and I] worked hard to hook up generators and pumps to keep flood waters back and [our subdivision in High River] had a really effective emergency response plan,” he told me in an email. “By Sunday, water had receded significantly and we were actually able to drive out of our neighborhood which had been completed surrounded by raging water.
“As we drove through town, I can’t begin to describe what I saw,” he continued. “There was total devastation and destruction everywhere we looked. Think apocalypse. Tanks, helicopters and emergency vehicles [were] everywhere. It was as close to a war zone as I have ever been. Our town is destroyed and our community knocked down to its very core….We cried uncontrollably as we left…wondering if we would ever see our friends and neighbours again.”
For the petroleum sector, the effects of the disaster reached at least as far as the Northwest Territories. “We are working on a project in the central Mackenzie valley,” said a company source whom I contacted at the time, and who requested anonymity. “The timing is very tight. Unfortunately, operations up there can occur only in a short winter window so if you are at a critical point and are delayed, the consequence is potentially missing an entire year. To make a long story short, one of our key staff members on the project lives in [the Mission district of Calgary] and had to rush home in response to the disaster. This delay may prove fatal to our hopes of getting some preliminary work done up there this summer which will, in turn, preclude us from moving forward on a drilling program next winter. So in this case it isn’t just a matter of pushing things a few weeks or months – it can involve much bigger chunks of time. It’s sort of like missing the bus and having to wait until the next one comes along.” 
Another anonymous source observed that the federal tax authorities were almost unique in providing ham-handed, dunderheaded guidance. At the end of June, when the flood was at full crest and most buildings downtown were without power and other utilities, the CRA sent a note to oil industry taxation people saying that, though corporate taxes were due on July 2nd, ‘any taxpayer that misses a filing deadline that is attributable to the flooding can request a waiver of any penalties and/or interest to the Tax Services Branch of the TRA.” Large legal and accounting firms protested loudly, of course, and the feds extended the deadline by a month.
In strictly economic terms, most of the needed spending on recovery was non-productive. Like Japan’s response to the 2011 tsunami, economic activity related to rebuilding is measurable as a boost to GDP, but amounts to spending money on restoring things to what they used to be. Todd Hirsch, an economist with Calgary-based ATB Financial, calls this phenomenon the GDP paradox. “Why is it that natural disasters (which are plainly bad) can boost the GDP (which is perceived as good)?” he asked. “The lift in economic activity that sometimes follows a disaster underscores why the gross domestic product is not a good indicator of societal welfare.”
Although total damage caused by the flooding remained unknown, On June 24, 2013 Premier Alison Redford predicted that cleanup would surpass the $700 million caused by the Slave Lake fire, with much of the cost likely to be uninsurable. For rural communities in particular, big fires can lead to the destruction of property. In 2011, for example, a bush fire torched the Town of Slave Lake, with 40 per cent of its structures going up in smoke. During that time there was another “huge fire, 600,000 hectares—it was a huge fire” – near Fort McMurray, several hundred kilometres away. Insurance companies paid $742 million to settle claims related to those fires – small change compared to what was to come
For his part, Minister of Municipal Affairs Doug Griffiths said a task force representing numerous government agencies and which earned praise for its coordination of recovery efforts following the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire would be reconvened. John McGowan, CEO of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association described how his organization was applying what they learned from the $700-million clean-up process following the Slave Lake fire in 2011 in their response to the flood. McGowan explained how AUMA subsidiary Alberta Municipal Services Corporation would provide a wide variety of services which include general insurance to the approximately 278 cities, towns and villages in Alberta affected by the flood. Damaged public buildings, vehicles and key public infrastructure, including subsidiary damage such as, structural damage to bridges or tunnels, need to be repaired or replaced in the “biggest cleanup in provincial history”.
In Calgary as everywhere else in the flooded areas, neighbours, strangers, friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends helped those whose homes were damaged. Calgary’s first official call, early on the morning of June 24, for 600 volunteers resulted in an estimated 2,500 people arriving ready to work.
Upon touring the affected areas, Alberta Premier Alison Redford who represents the Calgary-Elbow riding, promised provincial assistance in recovery efforts. The Alberta Treasury board met early on June 24 to approve a preliminary $1 billion emergency fund for the disaster recovery program, covering immediate clean-up and repair costs. Losses to home owners and municipalities caused by overland flooding, not covered by regular insurance, will be covered by the province. While making the funding announcement Premier Redford cautioned that it could take up to ten years to fully recover from the disaster.
A state of emergency for Siksika First Nation, east of Calgary, was declared in the evening of June 20 with approximately one thousand people evacuated from their homes. By June 23, with 200 homes still underwater, Chief Fred Rabbitcarrier told CTV that there was a “feeling of hopelessness.” Soon news outlets began to cover the story. Relief efforts, donations and volunteers quickly responded to the community’s call for help.
In November 2013, the Government of Alberta announced various projects to mitigate future flooding within Calgary and High River. The projects include construction of a channel to divert water around High River and a dry dam for the Elbow River west of Bragg Creek, which is upstream of Calgary. A grant was also announced for Calgary to investigate construction of a 5 km (3.1 mi) tunnel to divert Elbow River flood waters away from neighbourhoods.
An early estimate from BMO Capital Markets estimated the cost of these losses as ranging from $3-$5 billion. The outpouring of selfless courage and support from friends, neighbours and strangers was a partial offset. 
Years later the clean-up continued. For example, in mid-summer 2017 the town of High River announced it would invest $360,000 to clean and restore the Upper Little Bow wetland to pre-flood conditions. The community’s parks planning group developed the strategy to “improve the overall health and function of the natural green space. Kim Unger, parks planning supervisor for the Town of High River.
“The main objective of the project is restore the wetland ... by removing the debris, garbage, sediments, and silting deposited by the flood event of 2013,” Kim Unger told council. “This will be achieved by deepening the channel bed bottom and installing stormwater management facilities to treat storm run-off discharging into the system. Areas of riparian and wetland vegetation will augment the system. This reach/wetland is currently separate from the downstream reaches, with no flowing water within them.”
“The  flood exacerbated the situation, making this project even more important today,” she said. Unger said the parks people would complete the project in two phases. The first would involve dredging the Upper Little Bow’s channel bottom to remove waste. The town would then develop an upper and lower “forebay” – an artificial pool of water used to treat storm water and to restrict sediment from entering the system. It would also serve as a buffer during !high water events” – also known as flooding.
The year 2010 was a watershed for industry people who specialize in oil spill prevention and recovery. BP oversaw management of the biggest blowout in history. Well control and cleanup cost BP US$54 billion, plus US$18.7 billion to settle other claims. These events coincided with an Enbridge pipeline spill. Though a far smaller catastrophe, that spill became history’s most expensive oil spill clean-up operation.
Also in that year, the National Energy Board gave conditional approval for Enbridge to construct its Northern Gateway pipeline. As one of its conditions, though, the regulator instructed the company to establish a research program into the behaviour and cleanup (including recovery) of oils spilled in watery environments.
This reflected the newsworthiness of the two big spills. However, it also recognized the fact that, although oil spills are rare, when y happen they become hot-button issues in the news. Coverage of these worst-on-record events made it clear that, no matter what precautions the industry takes, oil does spill into streams, lakes and the sea.
The NEB condition prompted CAPP and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association to ask the Royal Society of Canada to supervise a peer-reviewed study into the accidental release of oil into water and wetlands. The seven panel members had world-class credentials, and represented universities and scientific organizations from Canada, America and Australia. The researchers completed and released the report – it bears the yawning title Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments – in less than two years.
The chair: Kenneth Lee, the Canadian oil spill recovery expert who chaired the project, is director of Oceans and Atmosphere for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Perth, Australia. He left Canada four years ago after seeing his federal research lab in Dartmouth, N.S downsized in a budget cut – even though his experience was such that he played a role in mitigating the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
As a scientist involved in the development and application of oil spill counter-measures, US Government agencies had asked him to work with a science team monitoring the effectiveness and potential environmental impacts of the clean-up of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “I witnessed how the spill affected the region’s environment and the surrounding local communities,” he told his audience in Calgary.
“In the past, industry-research partnerships focused on improving production technologies and solutions,” he wrote by way of introducing himself to his CSIRO colleagues. However, that has changed. “Our focus for oil and gas research now includes environmental, economic and social factors, including risk assessments for regulatory approval, exploration, production, transportation, decommissioning, and emergency response to spills and mitigation.”
Even though Lee had pulled up stakes and moved to Australia, his peers asked him to chair Canada’s oil spill study. Last November he presided over the release of the extensive report (it’s available online) at a talk to industry specialists.
“Do we know enough about how crude oils behave when released into fresh waters, estuaries or oceans to develop effective strategies for spill preparedness, spill response and remediation?” he asked. “What are our gaps in knowledge, and how should research inform policy, regulation and practice?” he asked. Briefly, those were the questions the researchers set out to answer.
Cutting to the chase: “Leading experts on oil chemistry, behaviour, and toxicity reviewed the science relevant to potential oil spills into Canada’s lakes, waterways, wetlands, and offshore,” Lee said. The task force examined the impacts of spills and oil spill responses for everything from pentanes and light oil to bitumen and dilbit and other unconventional oils. It surveyed scientific literature and key reports and oil spill case studies. They consulted industry, government, and environmental stakeholders. While most of the spills they studied took place in Canada, some were out of the country – for example, the accidental release of dilbit into a tributary of Michigan’s Kalamazoo River from a two-metre rupture in an Enbridge pipeline. Cleanup took two years, and cost US$765 million.
Each crude oil type has its own chemical “fingerprints,” Lee said, and those fingerprints determine how readily spilled oil spreads, sinks and disperses, how it affects aquatic critters and wildlife, and how long it takes for biodegradation of the oil to start. For the most part, oil’s impact on water depends on weather and waves, and how quickly clean-up operations begin.
The result is technical coverage of saltwater straits, freshwater lakes, running rivers and dense wetlands. Each is home to distinctive geologic features, but also to microorganisms that can transform oil as it spills and spreads. Those microscopic bugs degrade different oil types in a variety of ways, and their impact is often an important part of oil spill cleanup strategies. “Sunlight, wind, waves, and weather conditions can physically and chemically transform a spill,” the report says. “These changes to the chemistry of oil are crucial factors affecting how spilled oil spreads, affects aquatic organisms and people, or lingers in the environment.”
Oil spills are infrequent, according to the report, “and the probability of spills decreases with increasing spill size.” Despite the relative infrequency of crude oil spills into water, they can have big impacts economically, and from the perspectives of human health, safety and the environment. These realities raised many questions, and they demanded study.
Biodegradation: As technical as its title, the report set out to answer six questions, and uses 240,000 words to do so. Here is a summary of its first three conclusions.
To begin, the science is limited to a large degree because of the chemical degradation that takes place as oil in water weathers. However, “the initial and ultimate fate” of all oil types is strongly affected by season and weather. “The lighter the oil, the more it is affected by spreading and evaporation and the easier it is to treat effectively,” says the report. These processes slow down as the oil gets heavier. Heavy oil and bitumen-type oils, which have fewer water-soluble components, are more resistant to evaporation and biodegradation. Thus, “their potential long-term damage to the environment, waterfowl and fur-bearing animals is greater,” and cleanup is extremely difficult.
Another key question was how the different forms of oil affected different water ecosystems. Most of the creatures living in water are victims of some degree of habitat destruction from oil spills but the largest group of studies available had to do with the impact of spills on fish. Many of the studies available concerned fish, but in this case, spills of light oil are the cause. “Observed fish kills are typically brief and localized because of the rapid loss of [acutely lethal low molecular weight oil components] through dilution and weathering,” the authors wrote. They cautioned, however, about extensive fish mortalities “observed in rivers where a point source of oil was rapidly transported downstream before significant weathering occurred.”
The microbiologists on the team wanted to know how these ubiquitous creatures affect the properties of spilled oil, its persistence and its toxicity. Once again, they reported that light oils are more biodegradable than heavier oils and leave lighter residues. Smaller proportions of heavy crudes are readily biodegradable, and their residues persist in the environment even after cleanup. Ironically, they observe that, an area which has been the site of previous spills may begin biodegradation of a new spill quite quickly. The idea is that microbes in existing oil residues would rapidly begin to multiply, consuming the new oil. That said, the researchers worried about the impact of microbial processes on diluted bitumen. The alkalinity of diluents could kill off some forms of microbe.
Oil spill response: Behind the endless science in this report, of course, is the technical information needed to contribute to oil spill containment and recovery practice, and the balance of the report focuses in that area. After urging further biodegradability studies, the report discusses the use of oil dispersants for spill response, and discusses the use of mathematical tools to optimize doses, logistics and operations used to apply them. It also argues for “more effective and eco-friendly” dispersants.
What’s more, the oil spill recovery techniques in use today – for example, the use of booms, in-situ burning, skimming, dispersion and bioremediation – have a lot of limitations. They aren’t easily adaptable for cold waters and Arctic environments, for example. Among a truckload of other recommendations, the researchers recommend more field trials to advance spill response practices – “especially for subsurface blowouts, Arctic oil spills and freshwater shorelines.”
And in the spirit of good science, of course, they called for new studies to fill in the gaps, identifying seven areas where industry, government and academic institutions need to do more work. New work is coming from many research teams and funding agencies. As importantly, it is leading to technologies and other approaches to watershed management that reduce water-body contamination.
Take the case of operations that develop resources through fracking. President of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources Kevin Heffernan describes many ways his industry – a big water user – is “greening” its use of water. “You can reduce water use by injecting the water where it’s needed only, and there are technologies like the ‘sliding sleeve’ which enables you to inject water, chemicals and other materials only where you will get maximum production.”
Eric Schmelz – a vice president of NCS Multistage, which deploys this technology – said that providing precise positioning in the horizontal wellbore can “reduce by up to 50 percent the amount of fluid needed for fracking using the old methods. More typically, it involves a 30 to 40 percent reduction.”
A smattering of advocates: Consider a study sponsored by WaterSmart, a Calgary-based not-for-profit focused on efficient water consumption, and CCEMC, an industry-funded corporation which helps finance environment-related science. “Alberta’s social, economic and environmental history and heritage is directly tied to its water resources.” Although powered by hydrocarbons, “Alberta’s economy runs on water,” it says. “Water availability constrains and challenges economic and population growth throughout the province.”
WaterSmart’s executive director, Kim Sturgess, said good water management is less about technology, more about cooperation among the people who work and live in a given area. “The watershed management plan, and cooperation among the communities that need the water and use it – those are the key concerns that I have.” Everyone in the province has a stake in clean water, and “we need to work together to sustain the resiliency of Alberta’s water supplies and the communities (including industry) that need them.”
She also worried that the water used to produce the oil sands comes mostly from underground aquifers. “Groundwater aquifers are not well understood in this province,” she said. “There are pockets in Alberta where the groundwater is well known but overall that is not the case.” She is especially concerned about the management of the downhole aquifers tapped for steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations.
According to Brett Purdy of Alberta Innovates, a provincial think-tank, one consortium was testing a zero-liquid-discharge water treatment system. Now under construction, the test unit will produce “solid salt rather than liquid brine” from contaminated or processed water at a SAGD facility. Compared to conventional treatment, “the pilot is likely to discharge less wastewater, and withdraw less freshwater from nearby reservoirs,” he said.
Oil sands development in Alberta requires a great deal of water from streams and rivers. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage is an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen. It uses steam stimulation in which a pair of horizontal wells is drilled into the oil reservoir, one a few metres above the other. High-pressure steam is continuously injected into the upper wellbore to heat the oil and reduce its viscosity, causing the heated oil to drain into the lower wellbore, where it is pumped out. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage and Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) are two heat-based recovery processes for use in the oil sands. Both approaches use water for oil recovery.
In 2012, a group of companies responded to public concern about their use of water by creating the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. According to the organization’s Water Environment Priority Area (EPA), “Water is a high-value commodity and COSIA’s Water Environment Priority Area (EPA) is looking for innovative and sustainable solutions to reduce water use and to increase water recycling rates at oil sands mining and in situ operations in order to achieve our Aspiration to “be world leaders in water management, producing Canadian energy with no adverse impact on water.”
Oil sands development in Alberta requires a great deal of water from streams and rivers. Today, there are primarily two uses of water. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage is an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy crude oil and bitumen. It uses steam stimulation in which a pair of horizontal wells is drilled into the oil reservoir, one a few metres above the other. High-pressure steam is continuously injected into the upper wellbore to heat the oil and reduce its viscosity, causing the heated oil to drain into the lower wellbore, where it is pumped out. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage and Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) are two heat-based recovery processes for use in the oil sands. Both approaches use water for oil recovery.
The oil sands industry created COSIA, the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, in 2010 as the coordinator of technology sharing and research efforts; Alan Fair became director of its tailings EPA – an acronym for “environmental priority area.” Before joining the organization, Fair had spent 32 years at Syncrude. “I retired from Syncrude in order to start the Oil Sands Tailings Consortium which was then integrated into COSIA to become the Tailings EPA,” he said. “By background I’m a geotechnical engineer, so I definitely know the tailings thing. I worked on it off and on for thirty-odd years at Syncrude.”
To stress how important the tailings file had become, he offered a few statistics: In 2013, alliance members invested about $80 million in environmental research and development – a number which illustrated that “significant dollars are being spent by the companies to develop these technologies. That’s strictly R&D. So, there’s considerably more money being spent in commercially implementing these technologies, for example. We’ve got a substantive project portfolio on the go now – about 48 projects that various companies are working on.”
“All de-watering technologies to some degree rely on gravity,” Fair explained, “and they also rely on some form of polymer.” These chemicals bind to clay particles, with each polymer becoming a complex molecule connected to many clay particles. Once a molecule has taken on its load of clay, it will settle more quickly. That, he said, was the first step. From that point on there were only a few ways to separate solids from the water. “You can use thermal energy – heat it up and boil it off – or mechanical energy” like centrifugal force.
“You can also use evaporation, like what naturally occurs, and that is what thin-lift drying does. In that particular technology you add the polymer or the flocculent and then spread the resulting slurry in very thin layers, typically 23 centimetres thick. And, by doing that you create a large surface area that’s exposed to the atmosphere.” Given that Fort McMurray is surrounded by wetlands, at first it seemed surprising that these layers would dry out if left to themselves, but it was clear that the moisture would evaporate from the reclaimed material. “Granted, it only occurs about five or six months of the year,” Fair said. “In the winter months there’s very little evaporation. It’s a seasonal effort to dry them with evaporative forces.”
According to the organization’s Water Environment Priority Area (EPA), “Water is a high-value commodity and COSIA’s Water Environment Priority Area (EPA) is looking for innovative and sustainable solutions to reduce water use and to increase water recycling rates at oil sands mining and in situ operations in order to achieve our Aspiration to “be world leaders in water management, producing Canadian energy with no adverse impact on water.”
To achieve this organizational “aspiration,” COSIA has two performance goals for in situ and mining water use. The organization expects its members, which include in situ and mining operators, to do the following: In situ operators should strive to reduce freshwater use intensity by 50 per cent by 2022, while members with mining operations - Syncrude, for example - should reduce the net water use intensity from the Athabasca River and its tributaries by 30 per cent by 2022.
For its part, COSIA’s Water EPA identified additional key issues facing the industry and is working to address the following:
1. Accelerating the development and commercialization of water treatment technologies;
2. Creating a collaborative regional water management solution that links mining and in situ supply/demand;
3. Developing game-changing steam generation technology to reduce water used to produce steam for in situ oil sands development; and
4. Improving the use and management of all water resources, fresh, saline and recycled;
5. Managing salt accumulation in water streams on mine sites during active mining.
The evidence seems clear that global warming and climate change are influencing the environment in profound ways. The world’s cryosphere (frozen regions, including Alberta glaciers) is melting. Worldwide, lands that were once agriculturally productive are falling victim to desertification and flooding, and this reality is likely to become more severe. This is fundamentally affecting fresh water supplies and the habitat of many species – trout and other fish, for example. As we have seen, southern Canada is prone to floods in every region. This manuscript has discussed numerous floods in Alberta, but they have occurred across the country. In each case, it was it was déjà vu all over again, as baseball legend Yogi Berra would have put it. So were the responses of government and the people affected by them.
As I was preparing this manuscript, more floods took place – in this instance, the worst were in the Maritime Provinces and in Québec, and they stirred a great deal of news, including television footage of people steering boats down major roads, and even the proposition that home and office construction on flood plains should be immediately banned – a regulation that would put an end, for example, to building in downtown Calgary.
In an article, Glenn McGillivray – managing director of the Toronto-based Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction – described flooding and its aftermath as occurring in almost a formulaic way. “Once again, homes located alongside a Canadian river have flooded, affected homeowners are shocked, the local government is wringing its hands, the respective provincial government is ramping up to provide taxpayer-funded disaster assistance and the feds are deploying the Armed Forces,” he wrote. “Then the snow melts, the ice jams or the rain falls and the flood comes,” and the media describe the rain as being “far outside the norm.” but a scientific or engineering analysis later shows that it wasn’t all that exceptional.
“These events are not caused by the rain,” he said, but by poor land-use decisions and “other public-policy foibles. This is what is meant when some say there are no such things as natural catastrophes, only man-made disasters.” The next step in the cycle is for the province to step in with disaster assistance, then to seek “reimbursement from the federal government through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. In any case, whether provincial or federal, taxpayers are left holding the bag.”
“So what is the root of the problem?” he asked. “Though complex problems have complex causes and complex solutions, one of the causes is that the party making the initial decision to allow construction (usually the local government) is not the party left holding the bag when the flood comes.” Cities, towns and rural municipalities “face far more upside risk than downside risk when it comes to approving building in high-risk hazard zones. When the bailout comes from elsewhere, there is no incentive to make the right decision – the lure of an increased tax base and the desire not to anger local voters is all too great.” To break the cycle of natural disasters like floods leading to regional disasters which the taxpayer must ultimately pay for means “taking a link out of the chain of events that leads to losses,” he said. “Local governments eager for growth and the tax revenue that goes with it need to hold some significant portion of the downside risk in order to give them pause for thought. Enough, at least, so they may think twice about making risky decisions that put people and property directly at risk.”
The people disagree
The evidence strongly suggests we have water problems, and that they are likely related to climate change. Polling says the people of Canada agree, but puts the question in a larger context. According to a poll taken year after year, economic issues and healthcare are “among the most important, most concerning, and most serious issues by Canadians, while water issues rate relatively lower.” Nonetheless, according to the most recent release of these results, mare than “half of Canadians say that the quality of water in lakes, rivers, and streams, extreme weather causing droughts or flooding, and the long-term supply of fresh water and quality of drinking water have become at least somewhat more serious issues compared to ten years ago.”
As a nation, 45 percent of us view fresh water as Canada’s most important natural resource by far. Nearly a quarter of Canadians perceive oil and gas to be the most important natural resource, up slightly in 2017. Only in Alberta do perceptions of oil and gas (57%) outrank fresh water (27%) as Canada’s most important resource.
Most Canadians (60%) say an abundant fresh water supply is “very important” to Canada’s national economy, but this is down from 70 percent in 2008. “This ten-point gap is significant and suggests a need for better advocacy and communications on the importance of fresh water in the Canadian economy,” the pollsters continue. Eight in ten Canadians are confident that the regions of Canada they live in “have enough fresh water to meet long-term needs, similar to the confidence levels ten years ago; however, only about a quarter are very confident in Canada’s fresh water supply, despite nearly over half strongly agreeing that Canada has more fresh water than most other places in the world (53%).” The extensive poll is available online, and worth reviewing yourself.
Alberta and climate change
Figure 1: The hydrologic cycle. Temperature driven transpiration, evaporation and melting will increase with higher ambient temperatures, influencing the entire cycle. Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada
It is no coincidence all of these impacts are connected to water, as climate change has pronounced effects on global, regional, and local water systems. These systems directly influence our way of life because they control water flow, availability, and quality.
1. Water quality,
2. Climate variability,
3. Extreme weather condition frequency and/or severity, and
4. Earlier snowpack melt.
All these impacts increase risks relating to water quality, quantity, and reliability; a direct result of the interconnectedness of the hydrological cycle. As we become more familiar with the possible impacts of changes to the hydrologic cycle, the question becomes: are we ready for them as best we can be?
1. Future water supply and watershed management
2. Healthy aquatic ecosystems
3. Water use conservation, efficiency, and productivity, and
4. Water quality protection.
These projects aim to improve the safety and security of drinking water, aquatic ecosystem health, and reliability of water supply for industrial uses throughout Alberta, even as the climate changes.
Key climate and water terms
Our changing climate and its effect on our shared water resources is an increasingly popular topic of discussion in government, academia, businesses and households. Conversations about climate can be heavily science based, and may frequently be accompanied by an array of terms that are critical to understanding climate issues and their solutions.
The list below provides brief definitions for many key climate- and water-related words. It is intended to serve as a guide for navigating climate and water-centered discussions. Although research and investigation done to create these definitions was focused in Alberta, the list covers many generic terms that apply to all Canadian provinces and the global community.
You can also download a copy of the glossary here.
Combined processes (such as melting, sublimation, evaporation or calving), which remove snow or ice from a glacier or from a snowfield. Ablation is also used to express the quantity lost by these processes as the water equivalent of snow cover by melting, evaporation, wind and avalanches.
Acidification is a process occurring in oceans, freshwaters and soil. The most common reference is to ocean acidification, which refers to a reduction in pH of the ocean over an extended period typically decades or longer. Acidification is caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but can also be caused by other chemical additions or subtractions to the water.
The ability of systems, institutions, humans, and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences.
A dynamic system or process of task organization and execution that recognizes the future cannot be predicted perfectly. Adaptive management applies principles and methods to improve activities incrementally as decision-makers learn from experience, collect new scientific findings, and adapt to changing social expectations and demands.
Impairment of or damage to the environment, human health or safety, or property.
The acid-neutralizing capacity of water, typically measured as concentration of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Mildly alkaline water may have a pH of 8 (neutral water has a pH of 7, while pH below 7 is acidic). Note pH (potential of hydrogen) is a scale of acidity from 0 to 14.
Allocation (of water)
Individuals, municipalities, businesses and others in Alberta can obtain a license from the provincial government to divert water under the Water Act. The diverted water is expressed as an allocation, which refers to a specific quantity of water, maximum pumping rate and timing of pumping associated with the license.
Conditions occurring before an activity occurs or upstream of a specific location. Ambient air temperature is the temperature of the surrounding air. Ambient water quality is the water quality in a river, lake, or other water body, as opposed to the quality of the water being discharged.
The absence of oxygen, as in bodies of water, lake sediments, or sewage. Generally, anoxic conditions refer to a body of water sufficiently deprived of oxygen to where Zooplankton and fish would not survive.
A geological formation or structure that stores and/or transmits water, such as to wells and springs. The term is commonly used to describe formations with enough water to supply human use/s.
Sustained flow of a stream in the absence of direct runoff from the surrounding drainage basin. Includes natural and human-induced streamflows. Natural baseflow is sustained largely by groundwater, which is generally sustained by snowmelt.
An initial set of observations or measurements used for comparison; a starting point.
An area having a common outlet for its surface water runoff. The land area within a basin/watershed drains water to a stream, river, or lake (see also Watershed).
Best Management Practices (BMP)
Techniques and procedures proven through research, testing, and use to be the most effective and appropriate for use in each application. Effectiveness and appropriateness are determined by a combination of: (i) the efficiency of resource use, (ii) the availability and evaluation of practical alternatives, (iii) the creation of social, economic, and environmental benefits, and (iv) the reduction of negative social, economic, and environmental impacts.
Biochemical oxygen demand
A measure of the amount of oxygen consumed by aquatic organisms in the decomposition of organic material. The term can be used as an indicator of how much oxygen will be removed from water and the resulting stress on the aquatic ecosystem.
The variability among living organisms from terrestrial, marine, and other ecosystems. Biodiversity includes variability at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels.
Treated solid or semi-solid residues generated during the treatment of domestic sewage in a wastewater treatment facility. Primarily an organic product produced by wastewater treatment processes.
Wastewater containing excreta (urine and faecal sludge).
Conceptually, a carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the entity of interest, such as an individual, organization, process or product. There is no single method for calculating and expressing a carbon footprint, and the metric can be tailored based on the audience, available data, and other considerations.
Removing carbon from the atmosphere (present as gaseous CO2) usually followed by storage to reduce the accumulation of atmospheric CO2.
Basically the average weather of the region of interest. More rigorously, it is a statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant weather characteristics over a period ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years (World Meteorological Organization).
Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically on the scale of decades, centuries, or longer. Climate change can occur naturally or as a result of human activities (see also Global warming).
An interaction where one climate quantity causes a change in a second quantity, which ultimately leads to another change in the first. Negative feedback is where the initial perturbation (disturbance) is weakened by the changes it causes. Positive feedback is where the initial perturbation is enhanced.
A numerical representation of the climate system based on the physical, chemical and biological properties of its components, their interactions and feedback processes. Climate models are applied as a research tool to study and simulate the climate and for operational purposes, including monthly, seasonal and inter-annual climate predictions. They may also be called General/Global Circulation Models (GCM).
Climate variability refers to natural variations in the mean state, and other statistics on climate (such as standard deviations, occurrence of extremes, etc.) of climate, on scales beyond individual weather events but below scales considered for climate change. Climate variability occurs on time scales from months to years and even decades, while weather variability occurs over hours, weeks, and sometimes months.
The use of more than one water source, systematically, to reduce overall environmental impacts. For example, someone might use groundwater instead of surface water during a drought period, and then return to using surface water when runoff becomes available.
A tillage practice that leaves residues on the soil surface for erosion control and water conservation. It includes specific residue management practices, such as no-till, mulch-till, or ridge-till.
Water consumed by humans or livestock, evaporated (e.g. via the sun), transpired (e.g. via plant leaves), or incorporated into products or crops. This water is not returned to the original source. Water returned to a different watershed than the point of withdrawal (Inter-basin transfer) is not currently considered consumptive use.
A substance that, in a sufficient concentration, will cause adverse effects to water, land, fish, or other things potentially rendering it unusable.
Made of frozen water in the form of snow, permanently frozen ground (permafrost), floating ice, and glaciers. Fluctuations in the volume of the cryosphere cause changes in ocean sea level, which directly impact the atmosphere and biosphere.
The combined effects of individual projects on the environment, economy and society. Cumulative effects could include impacts from past, present, and foreseeable activities in a region.
Process by which arid or semi-arid land is transformed progressively into desert due to a continuous lack of precipitation (water) and/or land mismanagement.
Volume of water flowing per unit of time, or the rate of flow. The use of this term is not restricted to a watercourse and can be used to describe the flow of water from a pipe, drainage basin or groundwater.
Dissolved oxygen (DO)
A measurement of the amount of oxygen available to aquatic organisms. Temperature, salinity, organic matter, biochemical oxygen demand, and chemical oxygen demand affect dissolved oxygen solubility in water. Dissolved oxygen is generally greater in colder waters with significant mixing at the air water interface (rapids, waterfalls, etc.).
Diversion of water
Impoundment, storage, consumption, taking or removal of water for any purpose. Does not include water removal for the sole purpose of removing an ice jam, drainage, flood control, erosion control or channel realignment.
A period of abnormally dry weather long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance (the rate of water loss from the area significantly exceeds the rate of water return).
An ecosystem exhibits integrity if, when subjected to stress, it can maintain a state that allows the ecosystem to thrive.
Ecological processes or functions having monetary or non-monetary value to individuals or society at large. These are frequently classified as (i) supporting services such as productivity or biodiversity maintenance, (ii) provisioning services such as food, fiber, or fish, (iii) regulating services such as climate regulation or carbon sequestration, and (iv) cultural services such as spiritual and aesthetic appreciation.
Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows required to sustain freshwater and estuarine (river-ocean transition zone) ecosystems, as well as the human livelihoods and wellbeing depending on these ecosystems.
The process of liquid water becoming water vapour, including vaporization from water surfaces, land surfaces, and snowfields, but not from leaf surfaces.
Water withdrawn from the soil by evaporation during plant transpiration.
Feedback (feedback mechanisms)
Factors that increase or amplify (positive feedback) or decrease (negative feedback) the rate of a process or a system change (see also Climate feedback).
The overflowing of normal confines of a stream or other body of water, or the accumulation of water over areas not normally submerged. Floods include river (fluvial) floods, flash floods, urban floods, pluvial (rain dominated) floods, sewer floods, coastal floods, and glacial lake outburst floods.
Water containing less than 4,000 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of dissolved solids. Also referred to as ‘High Quality Non-Saline Water’ in Alberta Environment and Parks policy documents.
A broad set of methods and technologies aiming to deliberately alter climate to alleviate the impacts of climate change. Most, but not all, methods seek to (i) reduce the amount of absorbed solar energy in the climate system (solar radiation forcing) or (ii) increase net carbon sinks from the atmosphere at a scale sufficiently large to alter climate (carbon dioxide removal). Geoengineering is different from weather modification and ecological engineering but the boundaries are not clear.
Global warming refers to the gradual increase—observed or projected—in global surface temperature as one of the consequences due to natural internal processes or due to changes in energy in the atmosphere (radiative forcing) caused by anthropogenic (human) emissions.
Wastewater from clothes washing machines, showers, bathtubs, hand washing, and sinks. Greywater is wastewater that does not contain faecal matter.
Subsurface water. It originates from rainfall or snowmelt that penetrates the layer of soil just below the surface. For groundwater to be a recoverable resource, it must exist in an aquifer (see also Aquifer).
Upper tributaries of a stream or river, considered the source of that stream/river.
Hydrological cycle (the water cycle)
Water from the ocean and other water bodies evaporates and travels through the atmosphere as clouds, which release the water as precipitation. Precipitation over land makes its way to streams and rivers, which carry it to the ocean or other surface water bodies, where the cycle begins again.
A transfer of water from one river basin to another. Inter-basin transfers may be tracked or regulated for different levels of watersheds such as a hydrologic unit level or a set of basin delineations made by a regulatory authority.
The controlled application of water for agricultural purposes through human-made systems to supply water requirements not typically satisfied by rainfall.
IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management)
A process promoting the coordinated development and management of water, land, and related resources through decisions, legislation, policies, programs and activities across sectors, to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.
Mitigation (of climate change)
A human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the removal (sinks) of greenhouse gases.
Water treated to provincial standards and fit for human consumption. Potable water may also be called drinking water.
Total measurable supply of water of all forms of falling moisture, including dew, rain, mist, snow, hail, and sleet; usually expressed as a depth of liquid water on a horizontal surface in a day, month, or year, and designated as daily, monthly, or annual precipitation.
Recharge (of groundwater/aquifer recharge)
Natural or artificial introduction of water into the saturated zone of an aquifer. Recharge results from surface water infiltrating through the soil to the water table.
A pond, lake, tank, basin, or other space, either natural in its origin or created in whole or in part by the building of engineering structures. A reservoir stores water. The engineering structures regulate and control water levels and flows out of the reservoir.
The capacity of a system to cope with a hazardous event or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain its essential function, identity, and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning, and transformation.
A natural stream of water of considerable volume, larger than a brook or creek.
The part of precipitation that does not evaporate and is not transpired, but flows through the ground or over the ground surface and returns to bodies of water.
Raw/untreated water received at a treatment facility which delivers treated water to municipal, industrial and/or private users. Sources include groundwater, groundwater under the influence of surface water, seawater, and surface water from lakes, streams, rivers or other watercourses.
Part of a river basin drained by a tributary to the basin’s final outlet or with significantly different characteristics than the other areas of the basin.
Flowing water present on the Earth’s surface, such as in a stream, river, lake, or reservoir. Surface water is renewed by run-off from rain and snow each year.
A dynamic process that guarantees the persistence of natural and human systems in an equitable manner.
Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
A general term for a body of flowing water; natural watercourse containing water at least part of the year. In hydrology, it is generally applied to the water flowing in a natural channel as distinct from a canal.
General term for water flowing in a river or watercourse that is often quantified using discharge, or flow rate (see also Discharge).
A set of connected parts or things working together as part of a complex whole.
When used in the context of sea level, this refers to the increase in volume (and decrease in density) that results from warming water (thermal increase). Warming of the ocean leads to an expansion of the ocean volume and hence an increase in sea level.
A level of change in system properties beyond which a system reorganizes, often abruptly, and does not return to the initial state even if the original drivers of the change are removed or reduced. For the climate system, it refers to a critical threshold when global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state.
Virtual water content
The volume of water consumed in producing a product, measured over its full production chain. If a nation exports/imports such a product, it exports/imports water in virtual form. Note the water footprint of a product is a multidimensional indicator (volume, sort of water, when and where it is used), whereas virtual water content refers to volume alone (see also Water footprint).
The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability includes a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt.
Any combination of the following: domestic effluent consisting of blackwater (excreta, urine and faecal sludge) and greywater (kitchen and bathing wastewater); water from commercial establishments and institutions, including hospitals; industrial effluent, stormwater and other urban run-off; agricultural, horticultural and aquaculture effluent, either dissolved or as suspended matter.
The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated or incorporated into a product) and/or polluted per unit of time. A water footprint can be calculated for a single product, for any well-defined group of consumers (for example, individual, family, city, province, state or nation) or producers.
A term used to describe the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of water, usually in respect to its suitability for a specific purpose.
When water is used again after its original intended (licensed) purpose. The reuse can be for the same or a new purpose, and includes the use of return flow, wastewater, treated wastewater or effluent, reclaimed water, or any type of water recycling.
The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.
An area having a common outlet for its surface water runoff. The land area within a basin/watershed drains water to a single body of water, such as a stream, river, or lake (see also Basin).
Upper limit of the zone of saturation of groundwater in the subsurface, or the top surface of groundwater.
State of the atmosphere over a small temporal scale, such as hours, days or weeks, as defined by the various meteorological elements (temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction, etc.).
Well (water well; groundwater well)
An artificial excavation by any method for the purpose of withdrawing water from aquifers. A bored, drilled, or driven shaft, or a dug hole whose depth is greater than the largest surface dimension and whose purpose is to reach underground water supplies.
Issues highly complex and resistant to resolution. Wicked problems go beyond the capacity of a single mind or organization to understand them, often requiring collaborative reassessment of traditional problem solving and/or behaviour to successfully solve them.
Water removed from the ground or diverted from a surface-water source for use. Withdrawn water can be returned to the source after use (see Consumptive use for water that is not returned).
A Calgary-based author, editor and writer, Peter McKenzie-Brown has worked for several corporate clients and for industry and business publications. He has written many articles for energy-related magazines and was coordinator and an interviewer for the Petroleum History Society’s Oil Sands Oral History Project.
British by birth, he is American by upbringing and Canadian by choice. He began his writing career with the Reuters news agency in London, UK, in 1971. In Calgary he has worked for Gulf Oil Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Amoco Canada.
His book Bitumen: The people, performance and passions behind Alberta’s oil sands benefitted greatly from work conducted under the terms of a 2012 AGLC grant.
His other books include: Footprints: The Evolution of Land Conservation and Reclamation in Alberta (2016, with Robert Bott and Graham Chandler); Barbecues, Booms and Blogs: Fifty Years of Public Relations in Calgary (2008; co-editor and contributor); In Balance: An Account of Alberta’s CA Profession (2000, with Stacy Phillips); The Richness of Discovery: Amoco’s First Fifty Years in Canada (1998); and The Great Oil Age: The Petroleum Industry in Canada (1993, with Gordon Jaremko and David Finch.)
Prior to serving as coordinator and interviewer for the Petroleum History Society’s Oil Sands Oral History Project, he was a recipient of that society’s Lifetime Achievement award. In 2011 he was a recipient of the society’s Article of the Year award for a series on the oil sands, and in 2017 the society bestowed its Book of the Year award to Footprints: The Evolution of Land Conservation and Reclamation in Alberta.
1. Alberta Environment. 2009. Summary Report: Water Supply Assessment for Alberta. Edmonton, AB. June 2009.
2. Armstrong, Christopher, and Henry Vivian Nelles. Wilderness and Waterpower: How Banff National Park became a Hydroelectric Storage Reservoir. University of Calgary Press, 2013.
3. Armstrong, Christopher, Matthew Dominic Evenden, and Henry Vivian Nelles. The River Returns: An Environmental History of the Bow, 2014.
4. Atwood, Margaret. Survival. McClelland & Stewart Limited, 1996.
5. Bakker, Karen, ed. Eau Canada: The Future of Canada’s Water, 2011.
6. Berton, Pierre. Niagara: A history of the falls. McClelland & Stewart, 1992.
7. De Loë, Rob C. “Toward a Canadian national water strategy.” Final report. http://www.pugwashgroup.ca/events/Water/2008-Water-CNWS_Report_Final_2008_06_18.pdf Prepared for Canadian Water Resources Association, 2008.
8. Dekker, Dick, and Edgar T. Jones. Prairie Water: Wildlife at Beavershills Lake, Alberta. University of Alberta, 1991, 1998, pp.138-144.
9. DeWalle, David R., and Albert Rango. Principles of snow hydrology. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
10. Dorcey, Anthony H.J., “Water Pollution,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1985.
11. Dormaar, Johan F. The Alberta Stretch of the Milk River and the Mystique of its Surrounding Landscape. Lethbridge Historical Society, 2010.
12. Facts about Water in Alberta www.Albertawater.ca
13. Fisher, Chris, and John Harrison Acorn. Birds of Alberta. Lone Pine Pub., 1998.
14. Gasson, Christopher, A New Model for Water Access – A Global Blueprint for Innovation, Global Agenda Council, March 23, 2017; http://www.globalwaterleaders.org/water_leaders.pdf
15. Gilpin, John F., The Elbow: A River in the Life of A City, 2000.
16. Grace, Stephen. Dam Nation, 2013.
17. Gupta, Sushil K. Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, 2010
18. Huebert, Rob. “Climate change and Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest Passage.” The Calgary Papers in Military and Strategic Studies 4, 2011.
19. Innes, Harold. The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History, 1930.
20. Jha, Alok. The Water Book. Hachette UK, 2015.
21. Lee, Kenneth (chair), Michel Boufadel, Bing Chen, Julia Foght, Peter Hodson, Stella Swanson, Albert Venosa. Expert Panel Report on the Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments. Royal Society of Canada, 2015.
22. MacEwan, Grant. Watershed: Reflections on Water, 2000.
23. Mitchell, Patricia; Prepas, Ellie E. (1990). Atlas of Alberta Lakes. University of Alberta Press. ISBN 978-0-88864-214-1.
24. Mlodinow, Leonard. The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos. Vintage, 2015.
25. Newman, Peter C. Company of Adventurers, 1985.
26. Royal Bank of Canada, 2017 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/_assets-custom/pdf/CWAS-2017-report.pdf.
27. University archives, University of Guelph Canada’s Aquatic Environments; http://www.aquatic.uoguelph.ca/; Canada’s Rivers http://www.aquatic.uoguelph.ca/rivers/riverframes.htm
28. Van Tighem, Kevin, Heart Waters: Sources of the Bow River, 2015.
29. Wang, James and Bill Chameides. Global Warming’s Increasingly Visible Impacts. Environmental Defense, 2005.
30. Wood, Chris, and Ralph Pentland. Down the Drain: How we are failing to protect our water resources, 2013.
31. Wood, Chris. Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, 2008.
Journals, magazines, newspapers
1. 2016 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/_assets-custom/pdf/CWAS-2016-report.pdf
2. Irving, Tyler. “Three smart solutions from the Institute for Water Innovation,” Engineering News, U of T, March 2016.
3. Kome, Penny. “Geothermal Energy: Alberta’s untapped potential” in Alberta Views July/August, 2016
4. McClearn, Matthew. “Risky water systems pose health threat to one-third of people on First Nation reserves,” The Globe and Mail, August 29, 2016.
5. McKenzie-Brown, Peter. “Water Wisdom: Royal Society report reviewing how spilled oil reacts in water is helping enhance industry’s water knowledge;” Oilweek Magazine, March 2016.
6. Reilly, Blair. “Dam Safety and the AER – explained, maintained, contained,” Water Power magazine, 2016
7. Richter, Brian D. and Gregory A. Thomas. “Restoring Environmental Flows by Modifying Dam Operations,” Ecology and Society, 2007.
8. Sandford, Robert. “An Unexpected Water Crisis: Canada’s changing climate means more droughts, floods and storms—along with less ability to predict them,” Literary Review of Canada, 2012
9. Solnit, Rebecca. “Letter from a Drowned Canyon: The story of water in the West, climate change, and the birth of modern environmentalism lies at the bottom of Lake Powell.” https://story.californiasunday.com/drowned-canyon?mc_cid=f43fd76976&mc_eid=fc36d917b8
10. Snyder, Jesse. “Why water is a problem for the oil sands,” National Geographic, March, 2016.
11. Staff. “The Contentious History of Water Rights in Alberta,” Alberta Venture magazine, March, 2016.
12. Van Tighem, Kevin. “In Decline: What are we doing to our aquifers?” Alberta Views magazine, July/August, 2016,
13. Todd, Ewen, “Water,” Canadian Encyclopedia, McClelland and Stewart (1999).
14. Various authors, Special Report on Water, Alberta Venture magazine, March 2016.
15. Biello, David. “The Origin of Oxygen in Earth’s Atmosphere: The breathable air we enjoy today originated from tiny organisms, although the details remain lost in geologic time.” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/origin-of-oxygen-in-atmosphere/
1. Kim Sturgess , founder and CEO of Alberta WaterSMART, a services organization committed to improving water management through better technologies and practices.
2. Kevin Heffernan, president; Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources (CSUR)
3. Peter Murphy, professor emeritus in forest policy, forest fire management and forest history at the U of A.
[*] A book that the author didn’t ever hold in his hands, because he died just before it came off the press.
[†] “It is sure that along the banks of this river and Lake Arabosca [Athabasca] there are sources of bitumen, which flows along the ground.”
[‡] TW·h/year refers to terawatt-hours per year. One TW-h/year is equal to 1 billion kilowatt hours (3,600 Terajoules) per year,
[§] Piikani Nation
[**] The 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire set a new record three years later. Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc., which provides detailed analytical and meteorological information on Canadian natural and man-made catastrophes, estimated the damage to insured property at $3.58 billion.
[††] I have already conducted the first two of these three interviews.
 S.K. Gupta, Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell 2011; p. 2
 S.K. Gupta, Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell 2011; p. 2
 Mlodinow, Leonard. The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos. Vintage, 2015, p. 297.
 The Water Book, Alok Jha, 47-48.
 Ted Nield, Supercontinent, Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet; Harvard University Press, 2007; p. 225.
 Nield, p. 229.
 Nield, pp. 231-232.
 Biello, David. “The Origin of Oxygen in Earth’s Atmosphere.” Scientific American Nature America, Inc 19 (2009).
 Biello, David. “The Origin of Oxygen in Earth’s Atmosphere.” Scientific American Nature America, Inc 19 (2009).
 Nield, pp. 239-240.
 McEwan, 32.
 McEwan, 33.
 Eisenhower, Dwight David. Peace with justice: selected addresses. Columbia University Press, 1961.
 ibid., 77
 McEwan, 85-86
 S.K. Gupta, Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell 2011; p. 2
 S.K. Gupta, Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell 2011; p. 2
 S.K. Gupta, Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell 2011; p. 2
 S.K. Gupta, Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell 2011; p. 3
 Alok Jha, 18
 James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist; Oxford University Press, 2000; pages 241-279.
 James Lovelock, Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist; Oxford University Press, 2000; pages 2-3.
 James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth; Oxford University Press, p. 9. Earth System Science is an alternative name for this area of research; it caters to scientists who don’t want to be involved in research named after a mythological goddess.
 James Lovelock, Gaia: A New look at life on Earth; Oxford University Press; reissued, with a new preface and corrections, 2000. P. 112.
 Ferris, Timothy; The whole shebang: A state-of-the-universe report; Simon & Schuster, New York; 1997; p. 298.
 Nield, pp. 64-65.
 Nield, p. 14.
 Nield, p. 160
 Leet, L. Don;Sheldon Judson, Marvin E. Kaufmann, Physical Geography, Fifth Edition; Prentice Hall Inc.; 1975, pp. 222-223
 William J. Broad, “Tracing Oil Reserves to Their Tiny Origins,” New York Times, August 2, 2010.
 Gilbert, “Oil’s New Frontier.”
 Huc, p. 253
 Peter McKenzie-Brown, “The Carbonate Question,” Oilsands Review, November, 2008.
 McKenzie-Brown et. al., p. 23
 As Huc explains, a parallel process involving the creation of a mountain range creating a “foreland basin” helped form the world’s other great ultra-heavy oil deposits, in Venezuela; p. 31.
 Ian M. Head, D. Martin Jones and Steve R. Larter, “The mothers of all petroleum systems,” an extract from “Biological activity in the deep subsurface and the origin of heavy oil”; Nature 426, 344-352(20 November 2003); excerpt at accessed November 16, 2013.
 Huc, p. 253
 McKenzie-Brown et al., p. 69.
 Stephen Clarkson, “Continental Divide,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, year 2000 edition, p. 561.
 Another deposit (~500 million barrels) has been identified in Melville Island in the High Arctic; Ferguson, p. 8.
 Mitchell, Patricia; Prepas, Ellie E. (1990). Atlas of Alberta Lakes. University of Alberta Press. ISBN 978-0-88864-214-1.
 Fisher, Chris, and John Harrison Acorn. Birds of Alberta. Lone Pine Pub., 1998.
 Dekker, Dick, and Edgar T. Jones. Prairie Water: Wildlife at Beavershills Lake, Alberta. University of Alberta, 1991, 1998, pp.138-144.
 Dekker, Dick, and Edgar T. Jones. Prairie Water: Wildlife at Beavershills Lake, Alberta. University of Alberta, 1991, 1998, pp.136-137.
 Back, Francis, Canadian Museum of Civilization, and Jean-Pierre Hardy. Adventurers in the New World: The Saga of the coureurs des bois. Hull, Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2003.
 Harold Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: an introduction to Canadian economic history. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1930, 388.
 Victor G. Hopwood, ed., David Thompson: Travels in Western North America, 1784-1812. Macmillan of Canada, 1971, 59.
 Harold Adams Innis, Peter Pond: Fur Trader and Adventurer. Toronto: Irwin & Gordon, 1930, 10.
 Harold Adams Innis, Peter Pond, 125.
 Juliette Champagne, “Langue du pays et langue du travail: Le français dans le Nord-Ouest du XIXe siècle; Colloque sur les droits linguistiques dans l’Ouest; presentation to l’Association des juristes d’expression française de la Saskatchewan, 19 and 20th of February, 2010, Regina, Saskatchewan, 20.
 Barry M. Gough, First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Vol. 14. University of Oklahoma Press, 1997, 66.
 Victor G. Hopwood, David Thompson, 152.
 Barry M. Gough, First Across the Continent, 66.
 Alexander Mackenzie, Voyages from Montréal, on the River St. Laurence, Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans; in the Years 1789 and 1793: With a Preliminary Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Fur Trade of that Country: Illustrated with Maps. T. Cadell, Jun. and W. Davies. Cobbett and Morgan and W. Creech, at Edinburgh, 1801, lxxxiv.
 Arthur J. Ray in “Introduction” to Harold Adams Innis, The fur trade in Canada: An introduction to Canadian economic history. University of Toronto Press, 1999.
 Harold Innes, The Fur Trade in Canada: an introduction to Canadian economic history. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1930, 407-8.
 George de Mille, Oil in Canada West: The Early Years, Calgary: Northwest Printing and Lithographing Ltd., 1970, 161.
 Juliette Champagne, “Mission Notre-Dame-Des-Victoires, Lac-la-Biche, 1853-1963: Entrepôt et Couvent pensionnat,” Interpretative Matrix and Narrative History, an occasional paper for the Lac-La-Biche Mission Historical Society and Historic Sites Services, Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, July 1992, 111.
 Juliette Champagne, ibid., 115.
 Juliette Champagne, ibid., 73.
 Juliette Champagne, Souvenirs d’un missionnaire breton dans le Nord-Ouest canadien, Septentrion, Sillery, 1997, 279
 Ewen Todd, “Water,” Canadian Encyclopedia, McClelland and Stewart (1999). 2480
 Alberta Environment. 2009. Summary Report: Water Supply Assessment for Alberta. Edmonton, AB. June 2009, p. 4.
 Johan F. Dormaar, 8-9
 Johan F. Dormaar, 33
 Peter C. Newman “Company of adventurers.” Markham, Ontario: Penguin Viking (1985). 84-87.
 Source of map: Peace-Athabasca Delta Ecological Monitoring Program (PADEMP) http://www.pademp.com/
 MacGregor, James G. Edmonton: A history. Hurtig, 1975.
 McKenzie-Brown, Gordon Jaremko and David Finch. The Great Oil Age: The Petroleum Industry in Canada. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1993, 40-42.
 Pierre Berton, Klondike: the last great gold rush, 1896-1899. McClelland and Stewart, 1972, 222.
 McCormack, Patricia A. Fort Chipewyan and the Shaping of Canadian History, 1788-1920s: We Like to be Free in this Country. UBC Press, 2011; 141.
 McCormack, Patricia A. Fort Chipewyan and the Shaping of Canadian History, 1788-1920s, 75, 80, 128, 199, 286.
 Galloway, Gloria. “Indigenous Affairs Minister confident about improving water quality on reserves.” The Globe and Mail, February 23, 2017.
 Watermarks: 100 years of Calgary Waterworks, 15.
 Unless otherwise noted, the discussion of Alberta’s settlement in this chapter comes from McKenzie-Brown, Peter and Stacey Phillips, In balance: An account of Alberta’s CA profession, 1910-2000. Institute of Chartered Accountants of Alberta Chartered Accountants of Alberta, 2000.
 Armstrong, Christopher, Matthew Dominic Evenden, and Henry Vivian Nelles. The river returns: An environmental history of the Bow. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP, 2014. 50.
 Watermarks: 100 years of Calgary Waterworks, 18.
 McEwan, page 1.
 McEwan, 20.
 McEwan, 1.
 McEwan, 3.
 Watermarks: 100 years of Calgary Waterworks, 18.
 Watermarks: 100 years of Calgary Waterworks, 21.
 Watermarks: 100 years of Calgary Waterworks, 21.
 Armstrong, Christopher, and H. V. Nelles. “Wilderness and Waterpower.” (2014), http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/49374/20/UofC__WildernessWaterpower_2013.pdf 1
 Armstrong, Christopher, and H. V. Nelles. “Wilderness and Waterpower.” (2014), http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/49374/20/UofC__WildernessWaterpower_2013.pdf 2
 Armstrong, Christopher, and H. V. Nelles. “Wilderness and Waterpower.” (2014), http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/49374/20/UofC__WildernessWaterpower_2013.pdf 23.
 James White, “Power in Alberta: Water, Coal and Natural Gas.” Ottawa, Commission of Conservation Canada, 4-5.
 Michel F. Girard, “WHITE, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 19, 2017, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/white_james_15E.html.
 James White, “Power in Alberta: Water, Coal and Natural Gas.” Ottawa, Commission of Conservation Canada, 7.
 Armstrong, Christopher, and H. V. Nelles. “Wilderness and Waterpower.” (2014), 2.
 Armstrong, Christopher, and H. V. Nelles. “Wilderness and Waterpower.” (2014), 2-3.
 Armstrong, Christopher, and H. V. Nelles. “Wilderness and Waterpower.” (2014), http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/49374/20/UofC__WildernessWaterpower_2013.pdf 6.
 Canada Water Act, 1985; http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-11/page-1.html#docCont
 Karl Froschauer, White Gold, 40
 Karl Froschauer, White Gold, 40-41
 Karl Froschauer, White Gold, 43
 ibid. 43 – 44.
 Autonomous vehicles: Who’s self-driving your car? | The Economist January 9, 2016; https://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjPwp2UgNnTAhVkiVQKHdNECrkQFggnMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economist.com%2Fnews%2Fbusiness%2F21707600-battle-driverless-cars-revs-up-whos-self-driving-your-car&usg=AFQjCNHp5o-gHZDHSXHNkclU5q6WoatMHw&sig2=iPxVmPKxVzA3H7FD-F77cQ
 James Arbib and Tony Seba, Rethink X: Disruption, Implications and Choices; Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 The disruption of transportation and the collapse of the internal combustion vehicle and oil industries; https://static1.squarespace.com/static/585c3439be65942f022bbf9b/t/591a2e4be6f2e1c13df930c5/1494888038959/RethinkX+Report_051517.pdf
 Lonefighters National Communication Network; Oh-Toh-Kin, Vol. 1 No. 1, Winter/Spring 1992. Republished online at http://sisis.nativeweb.org/sov/oh11dam.html.
 Anthony H.J. Dorcey, Water Pollution, The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1985, 1923.
 Thompson Dixon, Anne Morin and Ian Campbell. “Is Water a Tradable Commodity?” by http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/PH2-1-12-2007E.pdf
 Brandes, Oliver; David Brooks, and Michael M’Gonigle “Moving Water Conservation to Centre Stage” in Eau Canada: the future of Canada’s water, 281-2.
 “Liquid Gold”, Theodore M Horbulyk, in Bakker, K. Eau Canada: the future of Canada’s water. (2007), 205-206.
Laura Corbeil, Steve Herman and Alexander J.B. Zehnder; How urban resiliency is a triple bottom line winner for Alberta; March 24, 2017; http://albertawater.com/alberta-water-blog/4729-urban-resiliency-alberta
 Heart Waters, Kevin Van Tighem, 203-4.
 “Water Use for Injection Purposes in Alberta report,” Alberta Environment, 2003, www.waterforlife.gov.ab.ca/docs/geowa_report.pdf. Effective March 29, 2014, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has taken over jurisdictional responsibility for water and the environment with respect to energy resource activities in Alberta from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. http://www.aer.ca/documents/applications/WA_WaterOil_UseOfWaterForEnhancedOilRecovery.pdf
 “Bow, Elbow and Highwood flowing five to 10 times normal rate,” Calgary Herald graphic, June 22, 2013, http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/graphic-bow-elbow-and-highwood-flowing-five-to-10-times-normal-rate
 Peter McKenzie-Brown, “A Railway Runs Through It,” Oilweek, September 2013.
 Peter McKenzie-Brown, “A Railway Runs Through It,” Oilweek, September 2013.
 Peter McKenzie-Brown, “A Railway Runs Through It,” Oilweek, September 2013.
 Peter McKenzie-Brown, “A Railway Runs Through It,” Oilweek, September 2013.
 Peter McKenzie-Brown interview with Mike Flannigan, July 2015.
 Jeff Lewis and Shawn McCarthy, “Crisis in the Oil Patch,” Report on Business, The Globe and Mail, May 5, 2015.
 Peter McKenzie-Brown, “A Railway Runs Through It,” Oilweek, September 2013.
 Krajewski, Paul; “Upper Little Bow to be restored to pre-flood conditions;” High River Times, July 10, 2017, http://www.highrivertimes.com/2017/07/10/upper-little-bow-to-be-restored-to-pre-flood-conditions
 This section originally published in Oilweek, March 2016: Peter McKenzie-Brown, “Water Wisdom: Royal Society report reviewing how spilled oil reacts in water is helping enhance industry’s water knowledge.”
 Lee, Kenneth (chair), Michel Boufadel, Bing Chen, Julia Foght, Peter Hodson, Stella Swanson, Albert Venosa. Expert Panel Report on the Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments. An Expert Panel Report prepared at the request of the Royal Society of Canada for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Royal Society of Canada, 2015.
 Peter McKenzie-Brown; “Water Wisdom: Royal Society report reviewing how spilled oil reacts in water is helping enhance industry’s water knowledge;” Oilweek Magazine, March 2016.
 Peter McKenzie-Brown, Bitumen: The people, performance and passions behind Alberta’s oil sands, 208-9
 Glenn McGillivray, “Flood. Rinse. Repeat: The costly cycle that must end,” The Globe and Mail, https://sec.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/flood-rinse-repeat-the-costly-cycle-that-must-end/article34914333/
 2017 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/_assets-custom/pdf/CWAS-2017-report.pdf, pp. 4-8.