Day 5: Washington DC – Whiskey is for drinking, Water is for Fighting

First a bit of American political trivia. My hotel is located right across the street from this famous landmark. Anyone know what it is? Answer at the end.

Normally I like reading Dave Climenhaga’s blog, but his recent uncharacteristically inflammatory posting seems to demand a response. For the record, I think Climenhaga gets it right more often than he gets it wrong. He is often the first to break news stories and political gossip (he outed my run for the Wildrose leadership before anyone else) and his analysis is usually very good, even if I don’t always agree with him.

But he does stray into the realm of kooky conspiracy in his latest posting on my trip, hosted by the US International Visitor Leadership Program:

This led Smith, whom the party news release was also careful to note leads Alberta’s “government in waiting,” to enthuse: “This is an important opportunity to represent Alberta and discuss three major areas of bilateral interaction: energy, agriculture and water. These issues are critical for Alberta’s future and are an important part in building relationships with our American friends.” (Emphasis added.) … I don’t know about you, but it makes my blood run cold when I hear a committed market fundamentalist like Smith musing about the need to chat about water with our American cousins…

Fortunately for Climenhaga, I’m blogging on my meetings so there aren’t any of what he calls “private chats” about water with anyone. If he wants to understand why I am interested in water, I suggest he consult an electoral map and have a look at where the constituency of Highwood is located. Water may well be the number one issue in my constituency whether its flooding of the Highwood and Sheep Rivers, delays in remediation efforts caused by provincial and federal departments, water supply limiting Okotoks’ growth, discussion of building a reservoir for offstream storage, the debate over a water pipline from Calgary or a subregional water plan, the Southern Alberta Regional Plan and the impact it will have on first-in-time-first-in-right water rights, the overallocation of water quota on the Bow, and the numerous bank erosion issues I’ve heard from my constituents since getting elected. When I meet with representatives from Montana later in the trip, we’ll also talk about the Milk River-St Mary water allocation agreement under the International Joint Commission. For the record, those are rivers that flow INTO Canada from the United States. I want to know whether there are any current issues under the agreement that I need to know about that could impact Southern Alberta. Hope that helps clear up why I’m interested in water issues, Dave.

I had a terrifically productive two and a half hour meeting with the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is essentially the federal agency responsible for managing everything to do with water: flood mitigation, hydro power, navigation, conservation, wetlands, reservoirs, erosion, water quality, and so forth. I was particularly interested to learn about some of the ways they have streamlined the approval process for routine issues that citizens and municipalities face in managing water resources locally. Some of the biggest complaints I’ve heard in Alberta are the bottlenecks in dealing with multiple departments across multiple jurisdictions. I think there might be some good ideas worth looking into here.

It also seems the Pacific Northwest is going through all the same issues southern Alberta is facing right now around the allocation of water rights and how to accommodate new uses. There may be some opportunity to learn from what Colorado and other states are doing. It was also suggested that I take a look at some of the ways Australia resolved these issues too, since they’ve been dealing with issues of water constraints for the last 25 years.

We also met with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - commonly known as FERC. They are responsible for regulating both electricity (in particular hydro and the wholesale electricity market) as well as natural gas (including LNG, storage and pipeline tariffs). Very interesting to hear their quite different approaches to public consultation, stakeholder intervention and the decision-making process. Alberta could learn a thing or two about how to develop a better approach to siting transmission lines that would have credibility with the public.

Considering how much these federal agencies are involved in hydroelectricity, we did have a discussion in both meetings about why the US president does not consider hydro power to be clean energy. In my opinion, hydroelectricity as a baseline fuel is one of the most obvious ways to reduce emissions of toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases. It’s mystifying to me why an administration concerned about both of these things would not look at Eastern Canada and BC’s immense hydro power resources as a huge opportunity for green and clean energy. I didn’t get a very clear answer on this, so I’ll keep asking.

Expenses: Since it keeps coming up in the comments section on my Facebook page I’ll keep repeating this background from my Day 2 post.

If you didn’t read the press release for this trip, no doubt you might be wondering, who’s paying for this trip? Here’s the answer. The costs are covered by the US Department of State, and they estimate the expense at $9,080 US for the 21-day program. With politicians’ travel expenses very much in the news lately, I thought you’d be interested in knowing my expenses as we go.

I have always said that international travel is an important part of the Premier’s job and, as Official Opposition Leader and International and Intergovernmental Affairs and Aboriginal Relations Critic, I think it is a necessary part of my job too. My criticism has not been about the fact that the Premier and her ministers are taking international trips, it’s the eye-popping price tag associated with them. You’ll notice this trip budgets out at about $432/day, whereas most ministeral trips lately have been costing in the range of $2000/person/day (or more).

Here are my expenses for today and to date:

$8.00     Taxis

$3.00     Metro ticket

$10.67     Lunch at Roti Mediterranean Grill

$4.51     Coffee at Watchdog Cafe

$41.00     Dinner at Buca di Beppo

$67.18     Total for the Day

$876.13     Total to date

Photo Trivia: The Washington Hilton was the site of the assassination attempt of US President Ronald Reagan. The hotel I’m staying in is just across the street.