Earlier this week, Environment Minister Peter Kent presented Environment Canada’s plan for a new Lower Athabasca Water Quality Monitoring Program. Developed in collaboration with Alberta, the plan (pdf here) responds to the Federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel report. The Panel, struck in September 2010 to review the environmental monitoring systems of the Athabasca River Basin, presented its findings in December 2010.

“This plan is the first step towards an improved surface water monitoring program,” said Minister Kent. “This will take time, but we are on track, and are committed to getting it right.”

The plan highlights the need for water quality measurements to be taken more frequently, and in more places, which will ensure there is sufficient data available to track possible changes.

The plan also highlights that the water monitoring program needs to link with other monitoring systems, such as air quality and biodiversity, to ensure a holistic view of environmental quality. It also promotes the use of an approach designed to allow for the continuous improvement of monitoring and data interpretation. In order to monitor long-term changes and maintain environmental quality within defined levels, it will assess the cumulative effects of oil sands activities.

The plan also promotes transparency and all data will be publicly available.

The development of the plan was led by Environment Canada in collaboration with Alberta Environment. Planners also consulted with industry, Aboriginal groups, non-governmental groups, and scientific experts over the past 90 days.

It is not known how today’s contempt of Parliament motion in the House of Commons will affect the plan’s implementation.

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