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Rural And Urban Communities Need To Find Common Ground

If you were to pick up a copy ofThe Economist, Foreign Affairs, ScienceorNaturemagazines it would not be unusual to find articles about conflicts between nations or between regions within a nation over the allocation of scarce resources.

To a large extent the cause of these conflicts is an ever-increasing population utilizing a dwindling resource. What is surprising is southern Alberta is already facing, to a certain degree, conflicts over a relatively scarce resource — water. Within the next decade conflicts over this resource will escalate so it is important the residents of southern Alberta begin finding ways to resolve these conflicts.

Looking at the 2001 and 2006 census data for southern Alberta one discovers a very alarming trend that will have wide-reaching consequences for resource use in southern Alberta. Between 2001 and 2006, southern Alberta’s population increased 11 per cent. However the urban population increased 13 per cent (from 1,081,162 people in 2001 to 1,225,137 people in 2006) and the rural population remained stable at about 200,000 people. In 2006, 76 per cent of southern Alberta’s population lived in the Calgary metropolitan area, 14 per cent lived in rural areas and the remaining 10 per cent lived in other urban centres. Looking at projections of southern Alberta population, it is apparent the growth of urban centres will continue while the rural population will remain stable or decline. It is plausible that almost 90 per cent of southern Alberta’s population will live in the Calgary metropolitan area alone.

DEMANDS INCREASE

For the first half of 20th century, resources in southern Alberta were relatively abundant and competition between urban and rural residents for these resources was minimal. Now the circumstances have changed. The urban population of southern Alberta out numbers that of the rural population by a ratio of 6:1. This will mean resources once perceived as abundant now are the focus for controversy and conflict.

A very good example of a resource that will be the focus of increasing conflict between the urban and rural populations of southern Alberta will be water allocation in the South Saskatchewan River Basin.

In a presentation to the Sammis Rotary Club of Medicine Hat in early January, the minister of environment for Alberta briefly outlined some of the issues he deals with in terms of water allocation on in the South Saskatchewan River Basin. Not only must he contend with historical users (cities and towns, agriculture, industry and two provinces) he is now faced with new issues (environmental concerns and the demands made by Indian reserves for irrigation water).

In addition, the minister is forced to deal with water allocation issues that did not even exist 10 years ago. While listening to this presentation it struck me that the minister is faced with some very complex issues. It also was my impression the minister was interested in resolving this and other conflicts through constructive dialogue with stakeholders.

QUESTION AGENDA

In a previous presentation, given in November, the subject of resource management was also discussed; in this instance a lawyer was addressing a group of local landowners. His presentation centred on a piece of provincial legislation recently passed by the Alberta government. It was obvious from his presentation this person did a very good job in researching the subject and presenting his argument to the audience. However, the most revealing aspect of his presentation came when he briefly showed the audience the potential areas in Southern Alberta where conflicts over resources would be the greatest. It was at this point in his presentation I began to suspect this individual was more concerned about maintaining the status quo than actually finding solutions to these conflicts. By the end of his presentation I was left with the impression this individual was doing nothing more than pandering to the fears of his audience.

Southern Alberta is often portrayed as an area of broad expanses and unlimited natural resources with a culture dominated by ranchers and farmers. Unfortunately, this picture exists only in the fertile imaginations of ranchers and farmers. The reality is less picturesque. The majority of residents in southern Alberta live in cities and the culture is far more metropolitan than many are willing to accept.

In the future, these urban centres will continue to grow while rural populations will remain constant. This urban growth will put even more strain on already limited resources and strain relationships between urban and rural communities even further. It is very nave for ranchers and farmers to believe they can protect themselves by simply by maintaining the status quo. The only way rural southern Alberta will survive is if it seeks out and establishes alliances in the urban centres.

HylandArmstrongisaretiredrancherfromthe CypressHillsAlberta.Hecanbereachedat [email protected] or4035284798

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