Prominent Canadian scientists have raised concerns over a lack of funding for water monitoring on the Athabasca River system, as the federal government pledges to cut spending while also promising increased environmental monitoring in northeastern Alberta.
Five scientists, all involved in either the federal or Alberta panels examining the health of the Athabasca River, sent a letter in August to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Environment Minister Peter Kent detailing their concerns that money and expert capacity will not be available to implement the monitoring needed for the region.
"It is clear that cuts to Environment Canada's budget and personnel will make it impossible to execute these important programs," the letter states.
Dr. David Schindler, a University of Alberta ecologist and one of the letter's signatories, told The Journal that Kent assured the scientists that money would be available, but gave no details on how much money would be needed or where it would come from.
The federal government has also not yet worked out with its provincial counterparts which government will do what work when it comes to increased monitoring in northeastern Alberta, Schindler said.
The University of Alberta water expert, who pushed further monitoring of the region with a series of reports last year documenting pollution far downstream of oilsands operations, said the fact that those questions still remain unanswered is concerning.
"Overall, it seems to be a reflection of how little regard either provincial or federal politicians have for the problem," Schindler said.
Alberta Environment spokesperson Jessica Potter said the provincial government is currently reviewing the recommendations of both the provincial and federal oilsands monitoring panels, in conjunction with Environment Canada.
Potter said the province should be prepared to respond sometime in the near future.
But Schindler has grave concerns over Alberta Environment's capacity to take on any more monitoring work in the region.
"Alberta simply does not have the scientific 'horsepower' to do even part of a monitoring program," Schindler said.
Meanwhile, Environment Canada spokesperson Mark Johnson told The Journal that "enhanced monitoring" on some of the air and water components of the federal Integrated Oil Sands Environmental Monitoring Plan has already taken place.
The federal plan would increase the number of monitoring sites on the Athabasca River and its tributaries to 43, an increase of ten. Under the plan, monitoring sites would extend from south of Fort McMurray to the Northwest Territories border.
Schindler was involved as a reviewer of Phases One and Two of the federal plan. He said both phases are excellent, but without commitments to funding the work, no environmental monitoring plan can get off the ground.
The panels of expert scientists called on the work to be funded by industry. So far, Schindler said, it does not appear that anyone from either government has approached industry about that plan.