What is the Issue?

Until recently, open pit coal mining was not a threat to our water system in Alberta. In 1976, a Coal Development Policy was put in place by the Alberta government that protected the very sensitive areas of the headwaters. That policy took 2 years to develop and was created with input from the scientific community and public consultations. It divided the areas of potential interest for coal mining into 4 categories of land. Our headwaters and Rocky Mountains were protected by this policy as they were identified to be in a category of land that was too high risk for this type of activity to take place.  It was recognized there could be no recovery from losing our water source and damage to this environment.

In the spring of 2020, the government of Alberta rescinded this Coal Development Policy with no public consultation or input from First Nations or the scientific community. This action opened the doors for foreign interests to see business opportunities on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. These (mostly) Australian coal mining companies plan to ship the coal to China to use in the production of steel. The headwaters for Alberta rivers (as well as Saskatchewan and Manitoba rivers) are located on these eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. If the headwaters are damaged by the creation of surface mines, then all living things downstream will be at risk. The possibility of damage can arise when the soil, vegetation and the rock (overburden) that covers the vein of coal is removed with heavy machinery and explosives. This overburden is then pushed into adjacent valleys. Whether it is called open pit mining, or mountain top removal…the potential for damage by surface mining in these sensitive areas is extreme. This industry uses a great deal of water, and is expected to use up a large portion of this most precious natural resource. Additionally, selenium poisoning of the water is a likely consequence as demonstrated by this type of mining in the Elk Valley, in BC. Selenium is a mineral that is toxic to fish, wildlife and humans when the level is too high. Deformities have already been noted in the endangered Westslope Cutthroat trout in BC because of selenium poisoning. Community water wells near the BC mines are no longer safe, and the mining company there has been working hard to correct this problem, however, the technology does not currently exist to remove this toxin from the water. The threat to our water is threefold: damage to the watershed, increased demand on this precious resource, and poison with selenium. While this 1976 Policy was not protected as law (previous governments had already issued exemptions) it did describe restrictions for sensitive areas that were viewed as deterrents by coal mining companies and investors. After it was rescinded, extensive exploration (roads and drilling in pristine wilderness) and proposals for surface mining in these sensitive areas became a reality. Protect Alberta Water and Rocky Mountains.