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from The Brandon Sun, Brandon MB:

Water for oil: study predicts unprecedented crisis

By: Dennis Bueckert

OTTAWA — Canada’s Prairies will face an unprecedented water crisis in coming years due to declining river flows and growing water usage — especially in processing Alberta’s vast oil sands, says a new study.

Summer flows in Prairie rivers are already 20 to 80 per cent lower than in the early part of the 20th century, say Alberta researchers David Schindler and W.F. Donahue.

Worst affected is the South Saskatchewan River, whose summer flows have been reduced by 84 per cent, according to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

All the major Prairie rivers are fed by melting snow and ice in the Rockies, but the glaciers and snowpack have been receding due to climate warming.

Weather records in the Prairies show a warming of one to four degrees C in the past 80 to 118 years, and half the weather stations receive substantially less precipitation than a century ago.

The study says that Alberta is the most vulnerable to water shortages because of population growth, extensive use of irrigation and the rapid growth of the oil industry.

‘‘The projected use of water for the oil sands could be as high as 45 cubic meters a second, which would be about half of the low flow of the Athabaska in most of the years of the last 15 or 16,’’ said Schindler.

Currently, the oil sands consume three to six barrels of water per barrel of oil produced.

The wetlands in northern Alberta are already showing negative effects of declining water supply, but large oil sands projects continue to be proposed and approved, says the study.

Alberta also accounts for almost three-quarters of Canada’s irrigation agriculture, and for intensive livestock operations with 6.4 million cattle and 1.8 million hogs.

‘‘If the trends described above continue, the combination of climate warming, increases in human populations and industry, and historic drought is likely to bring an unprecedented water crisis in the Western Prairie Provinces,’’ says the report.

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