Water Under Pressure ~ Navigating competing demands between agriculture and natural resource development, by Chad Eggerman appeared in watercanada’s July/Aug, 2014 issue.
Saskatchewan’s economy has been growing at a feverish pace the past few years on the pillars of agriculture, mining, and oil-and-gas development. Although growth has recently settled at more
sustainable levels, recent discussion in the province has centered around how to best use water resources in future development. This is an ongoing discussion in jurisdictions in Canada where both agriculture and natural resource development coexist, most prominently British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. The agriculture sector is traditionally the largest user of water in Saskatchewan, particularly for irrigation in the West Central region of the province around Lake Diefenbaker. By some estimates, there is the potential to expand as much as 500,000 additional acres of land to irrigation around the lake. The Government of Saskatchewan views this expansion as a major opportunity for economic growth and to attract investment. There are a number of irrigation districts in Saskatchewan that are administered by the Ministry of Agriculture under The Irrigation Act, 1996. Saskatchewan has been mining natural resources for many years but recent multibillion-dollar expansions and greenfield projects have raised the profile of mining in the province. The most established resources are uranium in the north and potash in the south. The potash-producing region in Saskatchewan directly overlaps prime agricultural land as well as considerable oil-and-gas reserves. There are two methods to mine potash: solution mining and conventional shaft mining.
The solution-mining process involves the construction of a well field composed of at least two drill holes—one to send hot water down to the potash-bearing zones of rock, and another to bring the potash-laden brine up to the surface after percolating in an underground cavern. Solution mining uses vast quantities of water. Currently, Vale proposes to build a 70-kilometre water pipeline to Katepwa Lake in the Qu’Appelle Valley to pump more than 40 million litres per day for their Kronau project (the equivalent of 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools). K+S Potash Canada is currently building a new solution potash mine and is planning on using up to 60 million litres of water per day. Different regulations in Saskatchewan apply depending on whether the water comes from the surface or the ground, the type of mining (for potash, solution or conventional), and the location (uranium in the north is regulated differently than potash in the south). The oil-and-gas industry in Saskatchewan has experienced rapid growth recently due largely to continued expansion of the use of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), which involves pumping pressurized
water underground to fracture rock to extract oil or gas. There were 3,200 horizontally fracked wells sunk in Saskatchewan from 1990 to 2013. On average, there are about 3,000 new oil wells (both vertical and horizontal) drilled in Saskatchewan each year. Any fresh water to be used in Saskatchewan for fracking is subject to appropriate approvals from various provincial water agencies. Residual fracking fluids are recycled and disposed of at provincially approved waste processing facilities or stored. The discharge or storage of used fluids into the surface environment is prohibited in Saskatchewan. The risk of water availability for farmers, miners, and oil-and-gas companies is becoming evident. Water supply agreements between miners and water suppliers, like SaskWater or a municipality, are becoming increasingly difficult to negotiate. The water supply agreement is a critical agreement to provide a certain amount of water at a set price. There are very significant risks for potash solution mines, which use water to operate if water supply is curtailed or discontinued. Oil companies are having to travel further and pay more for water for fracking. Intensive livestock and increased spraying (which uses fresh water) in Saskatchewan are also putting pressure on water supplies. There are a number of innovative projects in the province to mitigate these risks. Oil-and-gas companies are starting to use treated wastewater for their fracking operations. Municipalities in Alberta and Saskatchewan are now selling treated wastewater to oil companies. The treated wastewater can come from lagoons or from grey water discharge. This is a new revenue stream for municipalities and increases the certainty of water supply for oil-and-gas companies. Western Potash Corp.’s new potash mine in Milestone, Saskatchewan recently received environmental assessment approval for the facility, including the use of City of Regina treated effluent as the industrial water source for its solution mining process. The water is purified to prevent foaming or scaling. This is the first potash mine in the world to use treated water. It is expected the discussion between farmers and extractors of natural resources will continue in Saskatchewan and across Canada, with innovative technologies and agreements providing a way forward.
Chad Eggerman is a partner in the Saskatoon office of Miller Thomson LLP and assists owners and contractors to develop projects in the natural resource industry
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The following is an excerpt from ‘Forging a path to reduce the residential water footprint’ ~ Water Canada‘s Nov./Dec. issue, by Kaitlynn Dodge
For a city that relies solely on groundwater, conservation is a given challenge. Add to that a rapidly growing population and a strategy to reduce water use by 20 per cent by 2020, and you’ve got one ambitious target. Guelph, Ontario is the fifth fastest growing city in Canada. Currently, population sits at around 118,000, but it is expected to rise to 144,500 by the year 2021.
How will the city meet the goal? Planners believe that builders have a role to play in municipal water use reduction. That’s the reason that the City launched Blue Built Homes, a water-efficiency standard and rebate pilot program.
The initiative encourages collaboration with local builders to promote water efficiency in new building developments and promises long-term financial savings for consumers. The goal is to reduce strain on the water system and help defer costly capital infrastructure investments. Wayne Galliher, Guelph’s water conservation project manager, says that new homes were using on average more water than homes 30 years their age. By understanding the relationship of water use and distribution in the home and going beyond the building code, he says a significant difference can be made. Owners of the 25 Blue Built units built to date are already seeing a return on investment…
The features of a Blue Built Home
Carol Maas, innovation and technology director of the POLIS Water Sustainability Project and author of a pending report on water-sensitive design for new buildings, suggests that Guelph is emerging as an expert in the field. She says that water efficient homes need many of the features that are being applied in Blue Built Homes, such as efficient fixtures and appliances, hot water re-circulation, rainwater harvesting, grey water reuse, and drought-tolerant landscapes… Basic features also include removing water-primed floor drains and improving hot water delivery in the home while using the embedded energy for other purposes. Blue Built silver homes include a grey water reuse system, which reclaims and purifies water from showers and baths to flush toilets. At the gold level, homes feature a rainwater harvesting system that collects, stores, and purifies rainwater for use in toilet flushing, outdoor landscaping, and gardening….
Maas suggests that municipalities benefit most from this type of program through lower infrastructure costs, but consumers seem to be benefiting as well. While there is an initial investment of $800 to $1,400 to acquire a bronze level certification and a $10,000 to $15,000 investment for gold, buyers are seeing financial returns on their investments. On an annual basis, owners are seeing a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in water and energy costs. As the City moves toward full-cost accounting to meet renewal targets for infrastructure, these savings are expected to increase….An important note for home buyers is the maintenance requirements of installed systems. Understanding those needs and the associated costs will reduce after-the-fact surprises.
Driving demand to build blue
Community response to the concept has been positive, but more units will have to be built to achieve the impact that City of Guelph staff are hoping for. Sharing the homeowner experience and educating consumers about the benefits of water efficient homes is an importance piece of that growth. “We want to spread the word about what owners are enjoying about their homes,” says Galliher. The power of social capital is invaluable in helping to gain awareness of what the program is.
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