January 20, 2011 08:00 ET

WWF Urges Government to Protect Lower Athabasca River Flow

TORONTO, ONTARIO and ST. ALBERT, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Jan. 20, 2011) - Today, WWF-Canada released Securing Environmental Flows in the Athabasca River, a report urging government agencies to demonstrate their commitment to protecting Alberta's lower Athabasca River over the long term.

The report picks up from the close of the Phase 2 Framework Committee (P2FC), a multi-stakeholder group with representation from the Alberta and federal governments, a First Nation, a Métis association, industry, and environmental organizations, including WWF-Canada, convened to develop recommendations for a new water management plan for the lower Athabasca.

Participants in the P2FC process were unable to reach a consensus recommendation. At issue was the implementation of an Ecosystem Base Flow (EBF) for the river: a low-flow threshold below which all water withdrawals should cease. The report calls on the responsible government agencies – Alberta Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) – to move forward with a water management plan that includes an EBF and fully protects the lower Athabasca River.

"Implementation an EBF will be critical to protecting the health of the lower Athabasca in the long run," said Tony Maas, Freshwater Program Director, WWF-Canada. "This presents an opportunity for the governments of Canada and Alberta to show collaborative leadership on this critical issue, and to set a precedent for water management in Canada."

EBFs are becoming widely adopted in water management plans in other river basins in Canada and elsewhere. They are a fundamental component of any plan designed to meet social, economic, and environmental interests. Implementation of an EBF would ensure protection of the lower Athabasca River when it is most sensitive - during low winter flows.

The scientific rationale for implementing an EBF was reinforced by DFO, which conducted a review of the scientific evidence used by the P2FC. The Alberta Environment Minister's Advisory Group also recommended establishing 'protected water' – "a quantity of water or rate of flow not available for allocation to other uses" – on all of Alberta's major rivers. WWF-Canada now urges the government agencies accountable to take action.

"The need to implement an EBF to protect the lower Athabasca River has long been recognized," said Dr. Robert Powell, Mackenzie River Basin Program Director, WWF-Canada. "It has been established as a matter of sound science and good policy. We are asking the governments of Alberta and Canada to protect the lower Athabasca River by implementing an EBF now."

To view the full report, please visit www.wwf.ca/conservation/freshwater/.

About WWF-Canada

WWF-Canada (World Wildlife Fund Canada) is a member of WWF, one of the world's largest independent conservation organizations, active in more than 100 countries. WWF is creating solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet, helping people and nature to thrive. In Canada, we create solutions to conservation issues important to Canadians and the world. WWF-Canada works collaboratively with governments, businesses and the public to help fight climate change, the single biggest environmental threat to our planet; conserve our oceans and freshwater resources; and educate and mobilize people to build a conservation culture. WWF-Canada's main office is in Toronto, with regional offices located in Vancouver, Prince Rupert, St. Albert, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and St. John's. For more information, visit www.wwf.ca.

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