SAGE is a leading voice for a healthy and environmentally sustainable community.

Oki.  We respectfully acknowledge that SAGE meets on the traditional lands of Piikani, Kainai & Siksika, members of Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) and the homelands of Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III.  We are grateful for their keeping of these lands and waters - past, present & future.

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SAGE is currently recruiting for members and for positions on the Board. 

If you might be interested, please contact us.

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04 May 2023

Open Letter on Environmental Policy in Alberta

The future of Albertans will be based on a healthy and resilient environment: Water flowing in our rivers must meet instream flows and water quality levels necessary for long-term health of aquatic ecosystems and humans dependent upon them; biodiversity must be preserved to maintain the complex, interdependent ecosystem of which humans are a part; soil must be conserved to sustain food production for animals and humans; and polluting emissions to the atmosphere must be minimized, including greenhouse gases that contribute to the destabilization of climate. It is important to emphasize that these aren’t simply aspirations or luxuries of an affluent society – they are fundamental to the sustainability of human civilization. As such, to relegate a healthy environment as a ‘special interest’ is to foreclose on our collective future.

The following issues represent important policy directions that reflect environmental priorities in Alberta and can be implemented in the immediate future:

1. Expand protection of the Twin River Heritage Rangeland Natural Area as approved in the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.

2. Reject new, and phase out existing, coal extraction projects (both thermal and metallurgical). Design legislation to protect the headwaters on the Eastern Slopes from industrial development so as to preserve the quality and quantity of water, and to reduce GHG emissions from the export and burning of fossil fuels.

3. Expand efforts in regional and subregional land-use planning in the province to reduce environmental impacts, conserve native grasslands and wetlands and increase protection of biodiversity. Recognize limits to human use and implement measures to ensure those limits are not exceeded.

4. Alberta is the largest contributor to Canada's total NOx emissions, mainly generated by industrial processes, conventional gas and oil production, and transportation. Assessments for air quality indicate that most air zones in Alberta are in the ‘orange’ management level for both hourly and annual nitrogen dioxide according to the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards. Policy is needed to increase air quality monitoring throughout the province and implement measures to meet CAAQ standards.

5. Require fulsome environmental impact assessment and public interest determination of proposed major expansion of irrigation agriculture in the South Saskatchewan River Basin, including comprehensive modelling of surface and groundwater availability under climate change scenarios and assessing cumulative effects on instream flows, native grasslands, species-at-risk, soil quality, greenhouse gas emissions, current and future water allocations, and apportionment obligations of interprovincial and international agreements. We do not want to experience the economic and social disruption caused by long-term drought and over-allocation of rivers in the American southwest.

6. Re-integrate the Fish and Wildlife branch for cohesive research and decision-making in the public interest (which is the health of the natural environment).

These represent an important, though not exhaustive, list of policies that would embody an actionable response to existential environmental challenges in Alberta. Simply, we must do better to protect our air and water resources and restore the land. SAGE will continue to offer its expertise and support to decision-making processes in the province.

For the complete letter, click ... here


Published 11 April 2023 in The Calgary Herald:

More Irrigation in a Dry Land with Shrinking Rivers?

Lorne Fitch

The substances most essential in life are the ones we consistently overuse. In arid southern Alberta, water is limited, yet we treat it as though it was abundant.

Southern Alberta’s rivers are currently unhealthy, mostly because of an overallocation of water for irrigation agriculture. Sufficient water at the right time is essential to keep ecosystem processes functioning, fish alive, riparian areas green and creating opportunity for other users, now and in the future.

Our profligate, blinkered use of water is related to a trifecta of factors. A frontier attitude toward resource use has led to irrigation being allocated half of average river flows. Persistent lobbying efforts for irrigation expansion has jumped ahead of reason. Lastly, and key to this discussion, is climate change, which is shrinking the flow in southern Alberta rivers and creating hotter, drier weather.

There is, as well, the usual human hubris. Pretending that we don’t live in an arid climate, that water is abundant and that we can continue to grow an economy based on crops produced by artificial rain from irrigation sprinklers, clouds our thinking.

For the complete article, click ... here.

8 February 2023

Clean Air Strategic Alliance: Potential to Reduce Nitrous Oxide Emissions in Alberta

A new report by the Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA) identified potential options to reduce air pollution in the province and presents stakeholder perspectives on those options. This project was initiated because of anticipated exceedances of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS) that may occur if no action is taken to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

For more information, click ... here.

For the full report ... here

8 February 2023

... However, there is a risk that if the proposed investment tax credit for hydrogen is poorly designed, it could be used to subsidize fossil-hydrogen technology - which is incompatible with Canada’s climate commitments - or inadvertently impact the availability of more cost-effective and reliable climate solutions. This would risk locking Canada into a fossil-based economy and divert funds from effective, cost-effective decarbonization measures that align with limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C. If the objective of ramping up clean hydrogen production is to avoid exacerbating the climate crisis, then a clean hydrogen definition must be compatible with the Paris Agreement’s net-zero goal by 2050. 

To read the entire letter, click ... here.

December 22, 2022

Re: Review comments on Proposed Terms of Reference, Environmental Impact Assessment Report, for St. Mary River Irrigation District Proposed Chin Reservoir Expansion Project

Southern Alberta Group for the Environment (SAGE) is a non-profit organization based in Lethbridge whose mission is to serve as a leading voice for a healthy and environmentally sustainable community. For over 35 years SAGE has worked to protect and restore rivers and watersheds in the Oldman River basin and beyond. SAGE researches environmental concerns and issues and writes letters, briefs and articles to inform the community, including elected decision-makers. SAGE members have been active participants in multi-stakeholder efforts to improve water management including the work of the Oldman River Basin Advisory Committee to develop the South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Management Plan (2006), the Oldman River Basin Water Quality Initiative and the Oldman Watershed Council. SAGE engages in regulatory and appeal processes when it is the only responsible avenue available to influence key decisions affecting environmental sustainability.

We have reviewed the Proposed Terms of Reference, Environmental Impact Assessment Report, for St. Mary River Irrigation District Proposed Chin Reservoir Expansion Project posted on Nov 15, 2022 to Environment and Protected Areas website. We provide the following written comments for your consideration to assist in achieving a comprehensive assessment of project impacts that will provide a solid basis for a public interest determination by the Natural Resources Conservation Board.

To read the entire letter, click ... here

December 2, 2022

To: Hon. Sonya Savage, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas

RE: COP15 - Conference on Biological Diversity

Biodiversity is both vital to, and an indicator of, a healthy natural environment (an intrinsic value) and the ecosystem services it provides (a human value). The Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by Canada in 1992, “aims to conserve nature, ensure nature is used sustainably and that the benefits to people from the use of genetic diversity are shared fairly.” The tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-10) adopted a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, for the 2011-2020 period. This plan provides an overarching framework for biodiversity in the context of the 2050 Vision, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The upcoming Conference on Biological Diversity (COP15) will provide an opportunity for global leaders to establish goals and make commitments to address biodiversity loss, from threats of local extirpation to global extinction.

Habitat loss and degradation is the primary threat to biodiversity, in Canada and globally. The United Nations recognizes biodiversity loss as one of the world’s most pressing emergencies, along with pollution and climate change (which contribute to threats to biodiversity). ...

To read the entire letter, click ... here.

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November 10, 2022

Letter: Environmental Impact Assessment of the “historic expansion of Alberta irrigation” including Chin Reservoir, Deadhorse Coulee Reservoir and Snake Lake Reservoir

"We are responding to Minister Guilbeault’s recent decisions that three proposed irrigation reservoir projects that are part of the larger project do not warrant designation under the Impact Assessment Act because existing legislation and processes provide a framework to address potential adverse effects within federal jurisdiction (...). We have reviewed IAAC analysis reports for the three projects and have identified gaps and uncertainties to be addressed if the Minister’s rationale for decision is to be realized."

To read the entire letter, click ... here.

October 2022

The River of Unfulfilled Expectations

Lorne Fitch, P. Biol.

Alberta’s big rivers, the Peace and Athabasca, flow north, away from people. The North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan rivers, along with their tributaries the Red Deer, Bow, and Oldman rivers, flow east through the Alberta heartland, delivering essential waters to most of the province’s population. As one travels further south the demand for water escalates in concert with increasing aridity. So the expectations for the Milk River, the one furthest south, are the greatest.

The poor Milk River has never lived up to people’s expectations. This likely started with President Thomas Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery in the early 1800s. Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark out on an exploration of his Louisiana Purchase, essentially the Mississippi/Missouri watershed. Among other things, their instructions included determining whether there was a connection with the Saskatchewan drainage and the long established and lucrative fur trade route of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

To read the rest of this informative essay, click ... here.


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