Turning water into money

Talk of trading access to water on an open market stirs controversy, but it’s already a reality in Alberta

by Nicholas Kohler on Thursday, July 7, 2011

Last month, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé SA, the world’s largest food company, made a splash in Alberta for announcing, via an interview with Reuters in Geneva, that Nestlé was in talks with the Alberta government to establish a so-called water exchange—a market in which water, life’s sine qua non, could be bought and sold just like wheat, pork bellies or any other commodity. “We are actively dealing with the government of Alberta to think about a water exchange,” said Brabeck-Letmathe, describing the province as ideal for such a scheme because water there is scarce and competition for the resource between farmers and oil sands operators is fierce.

This was news to the government of Alberta, which swiftly moved to allay fears about the commodification of Alberta’s water, and its potential export. “Alberta’s water is not for sale and will not be,” Environment Minister Rob Renner told the legislature.

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