Better collaboration needed on Peace Region water issues

Representatives from various levels of government, industry and stakeholders have gathered to learn about and discuss current obstacles they are facing, and what can be done to improve the system. The group heard from the Peace River Regional District, the Ministries of Forests and Agriculture, the Northeast Oil and Gas Health Advisory and Northern Health, as well as the Treaty 8 Association first thing this morning, to offer each of their institutions’ perspectives.

The common theme among the presentations and subsequent question period was a need for more effective and better ways for collaboration between government and other organizations. Treaty 8 Chief Liz Logan maintained that the First Nations she represents are not against development, but want to be involved throughout the entire process. 

“We don’t want to be brought in after the eleventh hour to look at something. We need to be involved from the get go, because this is not only something that you use; it’s something that we live on.” 

She says much of the water on their land is undrinkable, and the animals who ingest soils and fluids contaminated by the oil and gas industry could lead to her people getting sick. 

“This has to be a collaborative effort. If government is not doing a good enough job I think it needs to be people who live off the land and live near these waters. All the regional districts, municipalities and First Nations, they need to start working together because it’s for our children that we’re protecting this water.” 

More research and studies, as well as stricter management policies when it comes to water are what she suggests to get back on the right track. 

Sheila Withrow, Northern Health Manager for Public Health Protection, echoed those sentiments, saying among some of the obstacles she says the health authority faces is a lack of coordinated approach to health impact assessments for major projects. 

“Each Health Authority responds to them differently,” she explains. “Right now it’s environmental health officers doing it for Northern Health. They have other work to do in a day, and these projects are large and we’re not doing them justice… We’d rather that be looked at elsewhere.” 

She argues the quantity and quality of water should be a top priority, including exploring alternative sources.

“The Kiskatinaw is a very vulnerable source, and if we don’t have some backup plans, we could be in an interesting situation with droughts,” adding that although Northern Health does not have jurisdiction over water systems, it can become their problem if people become ill from private water systems.” 

The workshop is hearing community expert perspectives this afternoon, and will continue to discuss what actions can be taken to address issues, and what questions remain.