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Page added on July 30, 2006

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Oil boom puts stress on water supply

FORT MCMURRAY – Neil Rutley pilots the boat towards the banks of the Athabasca River, certain there will be fish lurking there.

Not even the silty, murky water can drag out the suspense. Everyone on the boat knows they’re there.

These fish, after all, are at the centre of a raging debate about the minimum amount of water that needs to remain in the river to keep its ecosystem intact — and how much water the oilsands industry will be able to take.
Altogether, oilsands companies are licensed to take 395.7 billion litres a year from the Athabasca River, the equivalent of 395,700 Olympic-sized swimming pools. (Almost all of this water will not be returned to the river, but will end up in toxic tailings ponds.)

And even though some companies are becoming more efficient in their water usage, the expanding number of projects is expected to dramatically increase overall water consumption in the Athabasca River.

If you add other water sources, such as groundwater and other rivers and streams, the total comes to 570.9 billion litres a year for the oilsands industry in Alberta.

By comparison, the 930,000 people and industries in and around Edmonton who get their water from Epcor used 121 billion litres in 2005.

Edmonton Journal

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