Whisky’s for Drinking, Water’s for Fighting

FEBRUARY 10, 2021

Water has been at the center of conflicts between neighbors, communities, and countries for centuries. With growing populations and the threat of climate change, tensions are running even higher. When helping clients deal with these issues, it is important to remember where and why some of the disagreements arise. 

Firstly, when it comes to water, we are all conflicted and often at multiple levels. As an employee at an energy company, we ask the regulator to streamline processes to give us easier access to water resources for our commercial gain, be it supplies for hydraulic fracturing, gravel washing, mining, power generation and manufacturing. As a utility rate payer, we ask our municipalities to keep our utility costs low – which sometimes forces our sewage utilities to settle for less than the best available technology for treating our sewage -before the utility releases treated effluent that eventually becomes another community’s drinking water source. As environmentalists, we seek to restrict access to our headwaters – while preserving our existing entitlements to recreational activities. And agricultural water users downstream of large population centers carefully guard first-in-time-first-in-right entitlements to water – and may be reluctant to surrender some of those rights to upstream communities where future customers might choose to live. 

Having worked with some of Alberta’s leading watershed planning and advisory councils over the years, I’ve learned that conflicts arising from interest-based negotiations can actually be healthy and be resolved through transparency and openness to differing perspectives. Interest-based negotiations, as opposed to position-based negotiations, have led to significant strides being made in watershed management across Alberta. Interest-based negotiations emphasize the importance of relationships in which all parties are dependent upon each other to achieve a common goal or objective. Interest-based negotiation often forms a cornerstone of Alberta’s water management plans that establish water quality and quantity objectives in our major river basins. 

For more information on interest-based negotiations and how you can participate, be sure to connect with a watershed stewardship group or watershed planning and advisory council near you. 

-Bill Berzins