Happy New Year! A brief news roundup following a two-week break:

1. Shortly after the Royal Society of Canada released its oil sands report and just before the holidays began, Minister of the Environment John Baird released the results of the independent report on the oilsands chaired by Elizabeth Dowdeswell and an advisory panel originally appointed by former minister Jim Prentice.

“For too long, we have heard concerns about the quality of the water downstream of the oil sands. People have argued about what impact oil sands development has had on water quality, but we have been unsure about whether we had the data we needed to make that determination and to ensure that we were regulating appropriately,” said Baird on December 21.

“First and foremost, the panel has told us that Canada needs to build world-class environmental monitoring systems for the oil sands and that the need is absolutely urgent. We heard the panel’s message loud and clear and we are ready to act.” Baird outlined three principles to guide Environment Canada officials as they design the monitoring system: transparency, application of knowledge to other environmental assets (air quality, biodiversity), and acknowledgment of the importance of industry and stakeholder roles.

The day prior to the report’s release, Alberta’s Environment Minister, Rob Renner, kick-started a panel of independent experts to develop a “world-class” monitoring system. Said Renner: “These efforts will lead to a new, robust world-recognized monitoring system that will give assurances the oil sands are being developed under the closest of scrutiny and oversight. The system must meet the environmental challenges we face today, be adaptable enough to respond quickly to change, and anticipate and monitor areas where future cumulative environmental impacts may occur.”

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The experts are to be in place by January 2011 and will report back to the Minister of Environment by June 2011. As the first region in Alberta to move towards this new system, the oil sands region will serve as a pilot for the rest of the province.

2. In other oil sands news, Suncor Energy Inc. pleaded guilty to two violations of the Fisheries Act for the deposit of a deleterious substance into waters frequented by fish. The company was fined $200,000.

3. Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberté told the Montreal Gazette that Quebec’s study of potential shale gas pollution needs a broader mandate. He is concerned about potential contamination of groundwater.

4. An AECOM team in Canada is conducting a $150,000 wastewater benchmarking exercise for the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC) in the United Arab Emirates. The pilot project—a collaboration between Canada and the Middle East—is an extension of the Canadian National Water and Wastewater Benchmarking Initiative (NWWBI), which provides a tool for Canadian water and wastewater utilities to manage and monitor their performance as it relates to wastewater collection and treatment; water treatment, supply and distribution; and stormwater management.

5. The City of Regina, Saskatchewan, is planning to spend millions of dollars on water system upgrades, says the Leader-Post.

6. The Coca-Cola Foundation, the philanthropic arm of The Coca-Cola Company, awarded grants totalling $400,000 towards promoting water conservation projects in the United States and Canada in the fourth quarter of 2010. The Toronto chapter of the WWF-Canada received $150,000.

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