U.S. water ruling bodes ill for Manitoba

(August 18, 2017)

I have grown up with the story of the Garrison Diversion Project.

Since the 1970s, everyone this side of the border who understands ecosystems — and anyone with a shred of common sense — knows this project is a disaster for the waterways in Manitoba that are fed by the Red River.

Junior high-school biology students still have no trouble understanding the science — I was one, when construction first began, and nothing has changed since. We have even more evidence of the problems of invasive species, along with the northward migration of new species of flora and fauna, thanks to a warming climate. (Check out the pictures of flying Asian carp in the Mississippi River, for example.)

Without environmental approvals or acceptance by the International Joint Commission that resulted from the Boundary Waters Act of 1909, it has been built in fits and starts over the past 50 years anyway. The Garrison Diversion Project/Northwest Area Water Supply is as much of a monument to self-serving American pork-barrel politics as the disappearance of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan is a monument to Soviet economic planning from the same time period. Avoidable ecological catastrophes, both.

Budget after budget, representatives from North Dakota managed to get money for this (unapproved) project to supply water to Minot and other communities by tacking some funding onto whatever federal legislation they could, as the price of their support for tightly contested bills.

Which brings us to today, as all that was needed for the metaphorical switch to be flicked and the diversion opened is the kind of legal decision finally delivered in Washington, D.C., by an American judge last Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled the Northwest Area Water Supply project complies with federal environmental law, dismissing the objections of Manitoba and the State of Missouri.

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Is Keystone All About Water?

The proposed Keystone pipeline has the potential to be the largest environmental disaster in the history of North America and for none of the reasons that so far have been publicly debated.

Perhaps, as an historian, I don’t pay enough attention to what is going on around me, but the public outcry over Keystone caught me by surprise last year. I vaguely remembered hearing about the proposal and was not overly concerned, given the absurdity of what was proposed.

Why on earth would anyone want to run a pipeline all the way from Alberta to Texas merely to refine oil? The magnitude of the project and its cost would surely dwarf an expansion of current refining capacity and laying down an extra pipe through existing corridors to transport hubs already in operation. While oil was going up in price, it was not that high and alternate energy sources seemed to be making some headway against demand.

I also did not suspect that environmental considerations would stop the project. The environmental track record of the Canadian and American governments when it comes to oil has neither been wise nor green of late, as in Canada the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is back on the table and the Gulf coast still cleans up the remains of its latest (and not the last) spill from offshore oil drilling.

So, while I followed the arguments and impact assessments with interest, it was the commentary on potential contamination of the Oglala Aquifer from any pipeline leak or spill that caught my attention. Then the real reason for the Keystone project hit me: the whole thing has little or nothing to do with oil from the Alberta tar sands.

Keystone XL is all about water.

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