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article imageHow the Athabasca River affects Alberta's Tar Sands Special

By Kyle Ashmead     Mar 8, 2010 in Environment
Athabasca - The keepers of the Athabasca held a four-day water conference in the town of Athabasca, Alberta, Canada. Concerning Tar Sands development and the effects they have on the Athabasca River, and the people who depend on that river.
A four day Athabasca River Watershed forum ”Water is Life, as Long as the Rivers Flow” held in the town of Athabasca, Alberta March 3 to 6th came to a close Saturday. A number of high profile scientists spoke on many issues concerning the Athabasca River, particularly the Tar Sands and Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)within the Athabasca River Basin. The conference was hosted by the Athabasca Keepers of the Water, along with the Crooked Creek Conservancy and Athabasca Universities Science Outreach program.
Wednesday opened with a prayer by a native elder. Dr. Giles Wendling spoke of the danger to our ground water from Tar Sands development and SAGD. Ground geological formation and water contamination was discussed with the audience.
Thursday there was a presentation by Bob Pratt from the Safe Drinking water foundation about water purification alternatives that remove dangerous contaminants. Dr Kevin Timoney also did a presentation; he talked about the environmental impacts of Tar Sands mining. Including leakage from the Tailings Pond Dikes, which have now been scientifically proven to leak into the Athabasca River. The issue of the ducks and other wildlife which die in Tailings Ponds was also discussed.
Friday was a very full day; Dr. David Schindler, an internationally renowned water scientist, talked of the “naturally occurring seeps” of bitumen along the Athabasca River. Naturally occurring seeps have occurred in the region for many years, and were known of by early native people of the area. Who used them to patch their birch bark canoes. Today’s levels of bitumen toxins in the sludge on the river bottom are incredibly high in comparison to past levels in the Athabasca River. Tar Sands companies have often blamed these naturally occurring leaks, for the high level of contaminants in the Athabasca River. There were also several panels throughout the day, which gave perspectives from First Nations, and environmental stand points, on current proposed changes to Alberta’s laws and land use regulations.
One of these panels focused on the Alberta Governments performance, in relation to the Tar sands developments. Their findings were not good. They found the provincial and federal governments have been in dereliction of their duties, to the Albertan people impacted by this development, both from an environmental and a social economic standpoint.
Dr. John O Conner is the medical doctor who first brought the issue of rare cancers in the Fort Chipewyan community to world attention. He talked about his experience dealing with the Alberta government and the Canadian medical establishment, in relation to Fort Chipewyan. Dr. John O Conner also sat on one of the panels.
Dr. Susanne Bayley has worked for the Tar Sands companies on reclamation of Tar Sands mines. She spoke about the many issues they face. In forty years two acres of Tar Sands mining area has been reclaimed to the levels the Alberta government will certify. For comparison the area of Alberta affected by the Tar Sands, is slightly larger than the country of Greece. Heavy levels of salt in the soil are one of the many problems they face. The land will never be restored to its former state of which over 60% was Peatlands and fens which have incredible diversity and store high amounts of carbon.
From the findings of scientists and the panels the Keepers of the Water have made the following resolution.
“The facts are clear, human health is being compromised, water is being polluted, the environment devastated, the land cannot be restored, and the new Land Use Framework, which is being developed to mitigate the cumulative negative effects of development on the land and thereby the people of Alberta is in direct violation of treaty rights. The federal, provincial, and municipal governments lack the political will to take action on these issues. Thereby the Keepers of the Athabasca resolve to work in coalition with others along the watershed to promote and uphold indigenous rights, promote continued awareness and inspire the public to take action to hold our government responsible."
Saturday was a day for people to share their thoughts with a traditional round circle discussion. The keepers of the Water have a very deep connection to the land and respect traditional Native values. Because of this sweet grass was offered to all those present. Saturday was also a day for smaller watershed groups to share their stories, as well as connect with like minded people.
The conference was open to the public; however no industry representatives showed up.
More about Athabasca, Alberta, Conference, Water
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