EDMONTON - The Alberta government hopes community meetings this winter will bolster public confidence in how it manages water.
A leaked draft plan says the government has been holding off on making decisions on water policy because of "challenges associated with trust."
Priority issues identified in the document include use of water in hydraulic fracturing, effective water management, sustainable drinking water and healthy lakes.
One of the groups that released the draft said the community meetings are little more than a public relations exercise and avoid dealing with an idea that has been floating around the government for years — selling access to Alberta's water.
"The main thing that we are concerned about is that the government is looking at perhaps setting up a water market to sell water licences," Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta said Friday.
"That has very serious implications. Whoever would own those licences would control the future growth of cities. It would have an impact on our economy, agriculture and, ultimately, on our environment."
The draft says the 20 community meetings will be called the "water conversation project" and will have a $1-million budget.
Alberta Environment spokeswoman Jessica Potter said the government's plan to consult with the public about water policy is well-known and has been in the works for some time.
People who attend the meetings are free to bring up any concerns they wish, she said.
"The point of the conversation is to hear what Albertans have to say so they can bring up any topics that are important to them."
Water licences are not listed as a priority in the draft report because the idea is not under consideration, Potter added.
"We have never had an intention to sell water. We have always maintained that Alberta's water is not for sale and we have no intention of it being for sale."
The draft says the idea of selling water to the United States is "off the table."
The meetings are to begin sometime in February. A list of which 20 communities could be involved isn't final.
Joe Anglin, environment critic for the Opposition Wildrose, said the meetings must be a true consultation and the government shouldn't use them to reach a predetermined result.
"Water is a critical issue across the province and Albertans deserve assurance that this PC government isn't going to manipulate the agenda put forward."