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Alberta investigates Red Deer County family’s lead-contaminated water well near gravel mine


6 minute read

By Bob Weber

Red Deer County – Alberta Environment is investigating how a family’s water well near a gravel mine became so contaminated by lead it’s no longer drinkable.

The investigation comes as Red Deer County considers expanding mine operations that Jody Young suspects are the source of the lead she and her family may have been drinking for months.

“We have it in our blood,” said Young. “My son’s levels are actually higher than mine.”

Young, who lives just south of Red Deer near the banks of the Red Deer River, has lived within a few hundred metres of the county’s gravel mine for more than a decade.

She grew used to the slight murkiness of her once-clear well water as the mines near her central Alberta home stepped up production. Tests a few years ago showed the water was OK and she preferred the tap to a plastic bottle.

But the water kept getting worse.

“We’ve gone from just seeing it in a bathtub to being able to see it in a glass of water,” she said.

So last summer she asked Alberta Health Services to test her family’s well water. Within days, she got a call.

“They told us to immediately stop drinking our water,” she said. “We weren’t to cook with it. We were advised not even to brush our teeth with it.”

Lead — which can cause anemia, weakness, kidney and brain damage — was above levels fit for human consumption. So was aluminum.

Both metals were subsequently found in blood samples from her family.

“It was deeply concerning to learn of well water contamination in Red Deer County,” said Alberta Environment spokeswoman Carla Jones in an email. “The source of these metals is under investigation.”

On Feb. 7, Young plans to appear at a public hearing hosted by Red Deer County to oppose proposed changes to a county land-use bylaw. The changes would permit gravel mines on land virtually adjacent to her water well.

The proposed expansion site, privately owned, is also on land considered environmentally significant by provincial regulators.

“We are in full compliance with Alberta Environment on our pit,” said Dave Dittrick, Red Deer County’s assistant manager. Private operators would have to follow the same regulations, he said.

“Everything they do will have to be in compliance.”

Dittrick said although the county is co-operating with Alberta Environment, it hasn’t seen the data that prompted Alberta Health’s concern.

“We have not seen any information to substantiate these claims,” he said.

Gravel, or aggregate, mines are needed for everything from paving roads to building houses. Although they’re everywhere in Alberta, data on them is hard to find.

Mines larger than five hectares must be registered and come under provincial regulation. Mines that go below the water table or involve significant water use require a Water Act licence.

“Alberta has a robust regulatory approval process to manage environmental impacts of gravel pits,” said Alberta Environment spokesman Miguel Racin.

Smaller mines — the expansion near Young’s well would be about three hectares — are largely regulated by local land-use bylaws.

But observers say such mines are an increasing concern as Alberta continues to grow.

“It’s a problem in every county,” said Vivian Pharis, an environmentalist who has been involved in previous conflicts over such mines.

“We don’t have any good provincial regulations. The primary decision is made at the municipal level and, as soon as the zoning gets changed, then it seems Alberta Environment’s hands are tied.”

Hydrogeologist Jon Fennell, who has consulted on several mine projects, said gravel mines run the risk of exposing and releasing chemicals formerly held stable.

“If you’re opening (a mine) up and exposing things to oxygen, they can weather and oxidize and get mobilized,” he said. “Any time you disturb the earth, things change.”

While municipalities are in charge of much of the gravel mine permitting process, Fennell points out they are also heavy gravel users.

“They’re very pro-gravel in some parts of the province,” he said.

Red Deer County’s previous attempt to expand its aggregate operations near Young’s home was thrown out in 2022 by a Court of King’s Bench judge over an unfair process.

Enforcement is lax even for mines that do come under provincial rules, Fennell said. Operators may be required to monitor water levels, but not water quality.

“It’s not required,” he said. “If you don’t look, you don’t find.”

Gravel mines are necessary, said Dittrick.

“Aggregate is needed for development and development is ongoing,” he said.

Some sources may be more appropriate than others, said Fennell.

“We have to get (gravel) from somewhere. The question is, from where?”

Young wonders how long her family has been drinking lead-contaminated water. And she wonders why she has to wonder about that at all.

“I’ve had some real moments with this,” she said.

She recalls learning about some of her son’s computer searches.

“I found he was Googling about lead poisoning. He was researching potential impacts to himself.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2023.


Province to stop municipalities overcharging on utility bills

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Making utility bills more affordable

Alberta’s government is taking action to protect Alberta’s ratepayers by introducing legislation to lower and stabilize local access fees.

Affordability is a top priority for Alberta’s government, with the cost of utilities being a large focus. By introducing legislation to help reduce the cost of utility bills, the government is continuing to follow through on its commitment to make life more affordable for Albertans. This is in addition to the new short-term measures to prevent spikes in electricity prices and will help ensure long-term affordability for Albertans’ basic household expenses.

“Albertans need relief from high electricity costs and we can provide that relief by bringing in fairness on local access fees. We will not allow municipalities – including the city of Calgary – to profit off of unpredictable spikes in electricity costs while families struggle to make ends meet. We will protect Alberta families from the extreme swings of electricity costs by standardizing the calculations of local access fees across the province.”

Danielle Smith, Premier

Local access fees are functioning as a regressive municipal tax that consumers pay on their utility bills. It is unacceptable for municipalities to be raking in hundreds of millions in surplus revenue off the backs of Alberta’s ratepayers and cause their utility bills to be unpredictable costs by tying their fees to a variable rate. Calgarians paid $240 in local access fees on average in 2023, compared to the $75 on average in Edmonton, thanks to Calgary’s formula relying on a variable rate. This led to $186 million more in fees being collected by the City of Calgary than expected.

“Albertans deserve to have fair and predictable utility bills. Our government is listening to Albertans and taking action to address unaffordable fees on power bills. By introducing this legislation, we are taking yet another step towards ensuring our electricity grid is affordable, reliable, and sustainable for generations to come.”

Nathan Neudorf, Minister of Affordability and Utilities

To protect Alberta’s ratepayers, the Government of Alberta is introducing the Utilities Affordability Statutes Amendment Act, 2024. If passed, this legislation would promote long-term affordability and predictability for utility bills by prohibiting the use of variable rates when calculating municipalities’ local access fees.

Variable rates are highly volatile, which results in wildly fluctuating electricity bills. When municipalities use this rate to calculate their local access fees, it results in higher bills for Albertans and less certainty in families’ budgets. These proposed changes would standardize how municipal fees are calculated across the province, and align with most municipalities’ current formulas.

“Over the last couple of years many consumers have been frustrated with volatile Regulated Rate Option (RRO) prices which dramatically impacted their utility bills. In some cases, these impacts were further amplified by local access fees that relied upon calculations that included those same volatile RRO prices. These proposed changes provide more clarity and stability for consumers, protecting them from volatility in electricity markets.”

Chris Hunt, Utilities Consumer Advocate

If passed, the Utilities Affordability Statutes Amendment Act, 2024 would prevent municipalities from attempting to take advantage of Alberta’s ratepayers in the future. It would amend sections of the Electric Utilities Act and Gas Utilities Act to ensure that the Alberta Utilities Commission has stronger regulatory oversight on how these municipal fees are calculated and applied, ensuring Alberta ratepayer’s best interests are protected.

“Addressing high, unpredictable fees on utility bills is an important step in making life more affordable for Albertans. This legislation will protect Alberta’s ratepayers from spikes in electricity prices and ensures fairness in local access fees.”

Chantelle de Jonge, Parliamentary Secretary for Affordability and Utilities

If passed, this legislation would also amend sections of the Alberta Utilities Commission Act, the Electric Utilities ActGovernment Organizations Act and the Regulated Rate Option Stability Act to replace the terms “Regulated Rate Option”, “RRO”, and “Regulated Rate Provider” with “Rate of Last Resort” and “Rate of Last Resort Provider” as applicable.

Quick facts

  • Local access fees are essentially taxes that are charged to electricity distributors by municipalities. These fees are then passed on to all of the distributor’s customers in the municipality, and appear as a line item on their utility bills.
    • The Municipal Government Act grants municipalities the authority to charge, amend, or cap franchise and local access fees.
  • Linear taxes and franchise fees are usually combined together on consumers’ power bills in one line item as the local access fee.
    • The linear tax is charged to the utility for the right to use the municipality’s property for the construction, operation, and extension of the utility.
    • The franchise fee is the charge paid by the utility to the municipality for the exclusive right to provide service in the municipality.
  • Local access fees are usually calculated in one of two ways:
    • (1) A percentage of transmission and distribution (delivery) costs, typically 10-15 per cent.
    • (2) A fixed, cents per kilowatt-hour of consumed power charge (City of Edmonton).
  • Calgary is the only municipality that employs a two-part fee calculation formula:
    • 11.11 per cent of transmission and distribution charges plus 11.11 per cent of the Regulated Rate Option multiplied by the consumed megawatt hours.

Related information

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Alberta moves to protect Edmonton park from Trudeau government’s ‘diversity’ plan

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From LifeSiteNews

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

If Trudeau’s National Urban Park Initiative is implemented, Alberta could see its parks, including Edmonton’s River Valley, hijacked by the federal government in the name of ‘sustainability, conservation, equity, diversity, inclusion, and reconciliation.’

Edmonton is working to protect its River Valley from the Trudeau government’s “diversity” park plan. 

On April 15, Alberta Legislature passed MLA Brandon Lunty’s private members’ Bill 204 to protect the Edmonton River Valley from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s National Urban Park Initiative which would give the federal government power over provincial parks to enforce a variety of quotas related to the “climate” and “diversity.”  

“Albertans elected our United Conservative government with a majority mandate to, among other things, protect families and communities from federal overreach and intrusion. That’s exactly what this bill accomplishes,” Lunty said in a press release  

Bill 204, titled the Municipal Government (National Urban Parks) Amendment Act, is a response to the National Urban Park Initiative which would give the Trudeau government jurisdiction over Alberta’s provincial parks.  

The Trudeau government’s plan promises to “provide long-lasting benefits to the urban area” by using “sustainability, conservation, equity, diversity, inclusion, and reconciliation.” 

If the program is approved, the Edmonton River Valley could be “fully owned by the Federal Government,” which will use the space to advance their values, including addressing the impacts of “climate change” and creating spaces where “diversity is welcomed.”  

The plan also promises that equity will be “intentionally advanced” while “respecting indigenous rights” through “reconciliation.”   

However, many Edmonton citizens were concerned with the Urban Park Initiative and met with their MLAs to discuss the issue.  

Edmonton citizen Sheila Phimester worked with MLA Jackie Lovely to create a petition to prevent the River Valley from becoming federally owned. The petition has received over 5,000 signatures.  

“Oh, and because it’s the federal government, their ‘priorities’ for these parks are ‘healthier communities’, ‘climate resilience’, ‘reconciliation’, ‘equity’, ‘diversity’, and ‘inclusion,’” it continued.   

Already, Trudeau has attempted to assert power over Alberta’s industry by placing “climate” restrictions on their oil and gas production in an attempt to force net-zero regulations on all Canadian provinces, including on electricity generation, by as early as 2035.   

However, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has repeatedly vowed to protect the province from Trudeau’s radical “net zero” push. 

In December, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith blasted Trudeau’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s plan to slash oil and gas emissions by 35 percent to 38 percent below 2019 levels as “unrealistic” and “unconstitutional.”  

Trudeau’s current environmental goals are in lockstep with the United Nations’ “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and include phasing out coal-fired power plants, reducing fertilizer usage, and curbing natural gas use over the coming decades.  

The reduction and eventual elimination of the use of so-called “fossil fuels” and a transition to unreliable “green” energy has also been pushed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) – the globalist group behind the socialist “Great Reset” agenda – an organization in which Trudeau and some of his cabinet are involved. 

In November, after announcing she had “enough” of Trudeau’s extreme environmental rules, Smith said her province had no choice but to assert control over its electricity grid to combat federal overreach by enacting its Sovereignty Act. The Sovereignty Act serves to shield Albertans from future power blackouts due to federal government overreach.  

Unlike most provinces in Canada, Alberta’s electricity industry is nearly fully deregulated. However, the government still has the ability to take control of it at a moment’s notice. 

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