Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent released Environment Canada's plan for monitoring water quality along the Athabasca River and its major tributaries from Fort McMurray to the boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park yesterday.

The plan for the Lower Athabasca Water Quality Monitoring Program is Environment Canada's response to the Federal Oil Sands Advisory Panel report released in December 2010. In its report, the Panel recommended the development of a scientifically-credible water monitoring system to keep tabs on the environmental performance of the oil sands.

Following the release of the report, Environment Canada in collaboration with Alberta Environment worked to develop a plan that would meet the Panel's recommendations for improving monitoring in the oil sands. Both bodies will continue to be involved in the implementation and development of further environmental monitoring initiatives, and will maintain a dialogue with other interested parties including industry, Aboriginal groups and NGOs.

The plan emphasizes the need for more frequent water quality measurements taken from more locations. The water monitoring program will also eventually be linked to other monitoring systems for air quality and biodiversity that are currently being developed in order to achieve an integrated view of environmental quality. There is also a focus on using an approach that will allow for the continuous improvement of monitoring and data interpretation to better monitor long-term changes in order to ensure that environmental quality is maintained. All of the data obtained pursuant to the plan will be publicly available.

Mr. Kent was also clear that the plan is not intended to be the end of Environment Canada's efforts, but instead represents a single step towards better protecting the environment and ensuring the responsible development of the oil sands.