Watershed protection must be completed, says group
Nashwaak River Watershed Association says province has legal obligation
The Nashwaak River Watershed Association says the provincial government has a legal obligation to finish work it began several years ago to protect watersheds.
The process has been stalled since 2009, when the provincial government was supposed to collect one last round of water samples and enact legislation to make sure the river would remain in its state of health, spokesman Paul McLaughlin told CBC News.
Meanwhile, the area is under increasing pressure from shale gas development, an open-pit tungsten mine project and changes to the federal Fisheries Act that remove protection for non-commercial aquatic habitat, he said.
"So basically, we woke up one morning on the middle of a four-lane highway," said McLaughlin.
"The Nashwaak watershed has 1,700 square kilometres of pristine water. There are people dying in Darfur in the Sudan for water. The American military is studying scenarios because they believe the next global conflicts will be over water. We look like the Beverly Hillbillies here."
May be part of broader rules
McLaughlin says he's been told by Environment Minister Bruce Fitch the provincial government now plans to bind watershed legislation into broader rules to cover both land and water.
But McLaughlin said he worries there will be no Nashwaak watershed left by the time that happens.
He said citizens can require the provincial government to complete the classification under the Clean Water Act.
McLaughlin also said he hopes the provincial government will attach water costs to major industrial projects that require vast amounts of water, such as hydro-fracking for shale gas.
"The discussions so far have been about that either we have a mine, or we have gas, or we have no jobs. We're presented with an either/or scenario and this is an entirely false premise," he said.
"We constantly see jobs as a thing we have to have at any price instead of pulling on our big-girl panties and negotiating with industry in the way that business people negotiate."
Volunteer groups have been working to get the river classified as pristine and to ensure it stays that way since 2001. They have been collecting water samples and have held community meetings.