People living near Bonnyville, Alta. want the province to protect their shrinking lake from industrial impact while looking into the the causes behind the dropping water levels.
"Ten years ago this was all water," said resident Peter Crown, gesturing to the dusty former shores of Lake Muriel.
"As you’ll notice, there are lots of bird feeders around. There used to be pelicans on the lake and cormorants.”
Crown said both bird species would nest on small islands out in the lake, but as the water levels dropped, the islands became part of the mainland – giving coyotes and other animals access to the nesting areas.
“Last year for the first time, we didn't see any of them here,” he said, adding the lake’s fish population also disappeared.
Industrialization contributing to lower lake levels
A 2006 study done by the Muriel Lake Basin Management Society identified both drought and industrialization as the main factors behind the lake’s diminishing waters.
However, Baytex Energy received a third temporary license to draw water from the lake aquifer this year – something Crown calls “frustrating” given the lack of understanding about how industrial action might be affecting the lake.
The Alberta Energy Regulator said its own studies show the company’s actions won’t affect the already-dwindling water level.
Andrew Loosely, director of stakeholder relations with Baytex, says that company studies show the project has no affect.
“They've demonstrated that there’s no direct communication with our project or that aquifer with Muriel Lake. It’s going to be an ongoing process as we work in the area, wanting to be a good neighbour, and to ensure that we communicate about our projects on an ongoing basis."
But Crown does not agree. He said he’d like to see another study done to learn more about the causes behind the shrinking lake, but that the province was refusing to pay.
"Eventually, we’ve been told that if you want to study it more, you have to pay for it and put it in yourself."
Calling the province’s management of the lake an example of an “anything-for-a-buck mentality,” Crown worries that damage to his lake is just the first sign of a larger problem.
“In some respects, I look at Muriel Lake as the canary in the coal mine – if something happens here, it could happen anywhere.”
Crown and others who live near the lake now want the AER to hold public hearings before Baytex is given a permanent license to access the water.