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UPDATED: Mountain water to be trucked to Calgary after Fortress Ski Hill gets approval

“Fortress appreciates and has been receptive to the many communications received, both for and against, this initiative. Fortress remains committed to upholding the highest level of environmental and social practices going into the future (including the phase out of single use plastics)."
Fortress Mountain Ski Resort, located in Kananaskis Country, has received approval for its application to truck water to a bottling facility in Calgary. SUBMITTED PHOTO

KANANASKIS – A local ski hill has received approval for a controversial bid to remove water from a creek in Kananaskis Country in order to transport it to a bottling facility in Calgary.

Fortress Mountain Ski Hill received approval in October from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) to remove 50 million litres of water annually from Kananaskis Country and transport it to a water bottling facility in Calgary.

In July, Fortress Mountain Holdings Ltd. confirmed in a public letter it had filed an application to amend its provincial water licence so it could remove water from the Galatea Creek, marketed for it’s ‘purity.’ 

The application would allow nine or more trucks per day to come in and remove the water. The ski hill filed the application under the Alberta’s Water Act, which requires a 30-day public notice period.

In an email, Fortress Mountain director of operations, Chris Mueller, said it is “pleased to confirm” the application has been approved. 

“Fortress is  pleased to confirm that, after extensive review, analysis, and public consultation (in cooperation with AEP), it has been provided with the water licence Change of Use that was applied for in August of 2018,” Mueller wrote. 

“This approval puts Fortress in a positive position to not only continue with the redevelopment of this iconic Alberta-based alpine resort, but also create new jobs, help to diversify the economy, and continue reclamation and restorative efforts on the Fortress lands.”

AEP reportedly received more than 200 statements of concern but said none who filed were “found to be valid.” 

“Environment and Parks received a number of Statements of Concern but none of those who filed were found to be directly affected. All filers were contacted by email or letter in mid-October to inform them of our decision,” AEP press secretary Jess Sinclair wrote in an email.

“Although none of the statements of concern filed were found to be valid, we did provide information on our process and the status of this application to those who asked.”

Ken Hoover, who lives and works in Kananaskis Country and was one individual to send in a statement, said he’s upset and felt his concerns were dismissed.

“The director basically deemed [the statement] not applicable,” said Hoover. “I live in the park. I am very concerned for our grizzly and mammal ecosystem – we’re at a critical tipping point... It seems to me that this government does not care about this environment.” 

Hoover said he’s also concerned about future impacts this might have in terms of water supply and forest fires. 

“The dynamics of previous summers where it was extremely dry – we need our water resources saved in case of a catastrophic fire in this region,” he said. 

“The Alpine Canada Club sent out a state of the mountains report and outlined this impact about fire and mammals. The government are not even interested in anything that’s impacting the ecosystem.”

The Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) and other conservation groups also opposed the proposed change to the water licence. 

“AWA strongly opposed this water use and calls on Albertans to convey their concerns to the government and Fortress ski hill,” it said in a press release.

“Fortress ski hill is permitted to withdraw water for its ski business from a stream that flows into Galatea Creek, which in turn flows into Kananaskis River and the Bow River. One of the bizarre aspects of this proposal is that Fortress ski hill has been approved to truck 50 million liters of water to Calgary, where the water already naturally flows whilst providing multiple benefits along its route.”

 According to AWA, removing the water for the purpose of bottling it negatively affects the environment for a number of reasons including the greenhouse gas emissions to transport the thousands of litres of water annually.

“Existing municipal water supplies are of very high quality, whereas this bottled water will actually be worse for the environment,” the release states.

“Its higher impacts include; removing water from a small mountain stream flowing into a protected area in the Bow River basin headwaters; greenhouse gas emissions to pump and transport thousands of truckloads per year of water that is already flowing naturally to Calgary; and helping to promote bottled/canned water as ‘purer’ than high quality municipal drinking water, when we need to greatly reduce our overall packaging and waste.”

Meanwhile, Mueller said Fortress Mountain has been receptive to community concern and will “uphold the highest level of environmental and social practices.”

“Fortress appreciates and has been receptive to the many communications received, both for and against, this initiative. Fortress remains committed to upholding the highest level of environmental and social practices going into the future (including the phase out of single use plastics),” he wrote.

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