Head of Alberta environmental monitoring program hopes to regain public trust – Canada

Fred Wrona really, really wants you to trust him.

“The main piece that I’m working on is rebuilding public trust and confidence,” says the man charged with keeping track of Alberta’s land, water and sky.

As the province’s chief scientist, it’s his job to oversee the province’s much-maligned environmental monitoring program.

Since it was formed in 2012, that program has been kicked around like a soccer ball by critics from industry to First Nations. Originally an arms-length agency, it was yanked under the government’s wing by the New Democrats about 18 months ago, only to face another round of barbs, this time from scientists who feared a loss of independence.

So Wrona, a respected former Environment Canada water specialist who’s been with Alberta’s monitoring effort since the start, spends a lot of time talking about trust.

A haul truck carrying a full load drives away from a mining shovel at the Shell Albian Sands oilsands mine near Fort McMurray. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

“I’ve been working very hard with communities to build trust, trying to reinstigate something that we used to have … which is a much better relationship with stakeholders, with government, with industry.”

Albertans will soon have plenty of chances to decide if the province’s monitoring is worthy of that trust.

Scientists have been in the field for five years now. Their first set of overall assessment reports — on lakes and rivers around the oilsands — is expected this fall.

Next year, an ambitious set of plans on how monitoring will be expanded from the oilsands region to the entire province will be released. Wrona also wants to issue regular state-of-the-environmental reports.

He says the monitoring department has a mandate to report directly to the public, not just to the minister.

“What I need to do is ensure we’re getting monitoring information out in a timely way. It’s one thing to monitor, but telling somebody about it three years from now in a report, it really doesn’t help from an enforcement point of view.

“I need to start looking at getting a monitoring system that’s much more efficient and reactive, as things are happening in real time.”

Helping rebuild

That system is gearing up. Scientists are being hired to reinforce capacity that had declined badly.

“It had eroded,” Wrona says. “I’ve been given the responsibility to help rebuild.”

Partnerships and co-appointments with universities across the province are being explored —…

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