A group of New Brunswick conservationists, led by The Council of Canadians, says the Liberal government's new water strategy process is "a sham."

The Department of Environment and Local Government released a water strategy discussion paper on March 1.

The document includes "draft goals" which are based on the results of two private workshops, attended by government agencies and departments.

Margo Sheppard from The Council of Canadians says the government is not engaging the public enough in the process.

"Less than two weeks later, five open houses were scheduled in rapid succession, with the sixth and last one occurring tomorrow [Wednesday]," said Sheppard. "Think you blinked and missed the boat? You are not alone."

Sharlene Paul from the Wolastoq Grand Council said she didn't know about the open house meetings until Tuesday.

David Coon

Green Party leader David Coon says he has "no idea" why the Liberal government is developing a new water strategy now. (CBC)

Green Party leader David Coon says the province already has adequate regulations, even if some — like the watershed classification system — has existed for 14 years without ever being fully implemented.

"I have no idea what's going on here, where this came from, why they're pursuing it and why they are rushing through a process," said Coon.

"The premier could establish a select committee on water, [comprised of] all parties, with responsibility to hold public hearings, to hear from the public," he said.

Anti-Sisson mine campaigner Lawrence Wuest did attend an open house meeting. He said the discussion paper appears to ignore the concerns of smaller watershed organizations, like that of the Nashwaak River.

"The motivation for this step backwards is to remove obstacles from its industrial agenda," said Wuest.

"Which includes, most specifically, the Energy East pipeline, the Sisson mine, the Minco PLC manganese mine, and shale gas exploration and development."

14-year controversy

The most contentious aspect of water protection in the province continues to be watershed classification.

Since 2002, 19 watershed associations have submitted proposals for their watersheds to be officially classified and protected. As of today, none have been approved for classification.

Successive governments have said legal issues prevent the implementation of the regulation.

In 2008, Shawn Graham's Liberal government passed an amendment aimed at fixing a legal issue with the regulation.

The Department of Environment and Local Government says fixing the regulation today "would equate to an entire rewrite of that part of the legislation."

In a statement to CBC News the Director of Communications at the department, Jennifer Graham said:

"Some of the challenges include: the Clean Water Act does not provide sufficient authority to support the classification of surface waters;  the water quality standards in the regulation are vague and open to interpretation; and the water quality standards present difficulties for those entrusted with enforcement."

Charles Murray

Ombudsman Charles Murray first raised concerns in August 2014 over the Department of Environment's refusal to enforce a regulation that allows for watersheds to be classified. (CBC)

New Brunswick Ombudsman Charles Murray has regularly criticized the government's lack of action on water classification.

Murray has called the regulation "the equivalent of having a smoke detector in your house without batteries."

The last of six water strategy open house meeting is on Wednesday afternoon, March 23, between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Fredericton Inn.

After that, members of the public have until April 29 to submit their comments via the Department of Environment website.

The government says it will then prepare a "What We Heard" document, which it will make public, before drafting a water strategy.