Ranchers in the Milk River watershed are receiving letters from Alberta Environment and Parks advising them that their historic water use applications are cancelled and further use of the water sources puts them in contravention of the Water Act. The reason for cancelling the applications are not clear. What the letters don't tell these ranchers, who have been using their water rights for generations, is that they only have 30 days to appeal to the Environmental Appeals Board. If they don't appeal in that time, their application is cancelled with no chance of opening it back up.
When the Water Act was enacted back in 1996, livestock groups fought to have provisions included to allow existing traditional water use by farmers and ranchers to continue. All they had to do was apply to bring their existing water use within the new regulatory framework of the Water Act. The Act required farmers and ranchers to apply to codify their traditional user water rights with the cutoff of December 31, 2001. Many ranchers remember all the reports and maps they had to submit for their applications back then. They were assured their traditional uses would be protected by the Act and this was just to make sure watersheds did not become over allocated.
Registrations under the Act were to be assigned a priority number based on the date of first water use by the traditional agricultural user. A registration under the Water Act does not expire. Applications for water licenses would be assigned a priority based on the date of the licence application.
Brower Ranching Company received a letter on December 27, 2017 advising of the cancellation of their water use application. In subsequent efforts to resolve this problem with the application, which includes the water source for the house, owner Aaron Brower learned that many other ranches in the Milk River basin received the same letter closing their traditional agricultural user right applications. When Aaron asked the department what information they needed to reinstate the application, the reply he received was that the file was closed and cannot be reopened. At this point, Aaron contacted his lawyer to file an official appeal. Below is a link to the appeal letter filed by Keith Wilson, legal representative for Aaron Brower and Brower Ranching Company.
There are a number of alarming and disturbing points to this action by the government: