Conserve Kananaskis (@conservekananskis)

July 7, 2020: first published
July 8, 2020: linked AWA article
July 20, 2020: added quote, local water-act
August 9, 2020: FMH additional extension, no public consult (new docs June 2020, June 2019, Dec 2019)
August 17, 2020: FMH approved for ATV/quad hiking; water being sold now
August 26, 2020: Sprawl Calgary article; brewery using water
October 16, 2020: New lease issued (and wording changes); lobby BDC;

Overview and Summary

This letter details Alberta Environment and Park's (AEP's) recent approval to allow Fortress Mountain Holdings Inc. (FMH) to sell water. This letter also details FMH ongoing lease agreement with AEP in regards to opening as a ski resort. This letter will back up statements with the original documents & sources. These documents are all part of the public record and were obtained under Alberta’s FOIP Act (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) or through the Alberta Records Management office.

I welcome any corrections/feedback/additions etcetera to this information and I will make corrections quickly.

My main purpose for writing this letter is to compile the info/documents/process associated with AEP’s granting of water licence amendment #00037369-00-03. Such a consolidated public record has been lacking thus far and having one will, in my opinion, help interested parties understand the process behind the decision to allow FMH to sell water.

Other articles about FMH selling water:

Fortress Mountain Background

Fortress Mountain operated as a ski resort until its closing around December 2004. Fortress Mountain is located in Kananaskis Country, Alberta approximately 123km west and south of Calgary. The lease FMH operates on, while not a provincial park itself, is surrounded on all sides by both Spray Valley and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks. The original Fortress lease predates both Kananaskis Country as well as the Spray Valley and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks that now surround it.

The current FMH owners (list of owners) obtained the dispositions for the land leases and water licences July 30, 2010 (copy of Lease). The original water licence was first issued December 5th, 1968. A copy of that water licence can be found on page 8 of this document.

FMH currently earns income from: Cat skiing, movies (Inception, The Bourne Legacy, The Revenant, among many others), filming of commercials, and charging various outdoor recreation companies for access. They’re now adding selling water to the list of income streams. Additionally, according to this website, FMH has submitted a proposal to deliver XC ski trail grooming services.

Fortress Mountain Redevelopment

FMH states they plan to re-open (archive) as a ski resort. FMH was originally mandated to open as a ski resort on December 31, 2013. That did not happen. They then signed an amendment saying they would open as a ski resort December 31, 2016. That did not happen. FMH signed yet another amendment saying they would open as a ski resort December 31, 2017. That did not happen. FMH was then mandated to open by December 31, 2020. That did not happen. FMH is currently mandated to open as a ski resort by 2023. Yes, that's 5 contractually agreed-upon deadlines. FMH currently employs the lobbying services of Hal Danchilla (Alberta Lobbyist record). The lobbyist record shows that Mr. Danchilla’s services are in place until December 31, 2020. The Alberta government, as of November 1 2019 increased commercial leases from the existing 25 years up to 60 years.

“This was just something that industry brought forward to us and then we implemented it.” — Justin Brattinga, press secretary for the minister of economic development, trade and tourism).

In this December 2019 document FMH said to AEP, “we look forward to these longer timelines in our dispositions when we re-open them”.

In this June 2020 document FMH said to AEP, “We were told that a 60 year lease for ours was imminent and well underway.” “...we are dumbfounded at this process which creates more uncertainty than the desired outcome actually provides comfort for! Why not just amend the existing leases? Why is public and ACO [Aboriginal Consultation Office] consultation required for something that already exists and is approved simply for a longer term?”

AEP recently (July 31, 2020) issued an updated lease (and a 5th ski resort opening deadline) that expires in 2045. This was done without (to my knowledge) public nor Aboriginal Consultation Office (ACO) consultation.

In a June 1, 2019 update to AEP, FMH said: “We look forward to approvals on the water side in the near future which will ensure the resort is financially stable for the long term.” In FMH’s latest update to AEP FMH cites financing as their current “biggest challenge”.

Selling Water

On October 25th, 2019 AEP granted FMH an amendment to their water licence that allows the commercial sale of up to 50,000 cubic meters of water (50 million litres) ( Disposition document). This water will be carried by tanker truck at an approved rate of up to 15 trucks per day. The expected year round daily average is 9 trucks per day, with each truck containing approximately 15,220 litres. That’s an average of 136,980 litres/day being trucked out of the Bonsai basin. Picture of the basin that water is to be removed from.

Bonsai Basin

Shoma Tanzeeba, P.Eng. Hydrologist states (on page 58 of this document) that: “Daily flow volume using data provided in appendix F shows that in some days (near beginning and end of open water season) that this total diversion volume per day is approximately 40-50% of the flow volume for that day.” So AEP is, potentially, allowing removal of 50% of the flowing volume of the creek! Shoma Tanzeeba goes on to suggest that the licence amendment should contain a limit of removal at 45% of flow. This is the case and the water licence amendment does contain that stipulation. This Fisheries Biologist said in regards to the water amendment that, “... it is impossible to assess the potential impact of a reduction in water return on fish and fish habitat in the Kananaskis River system. As a result Fisheries Management can only categorise the potential impacts to spawning, migration, and habitat suitability as unknown.”

This graduate studies Masters Thesis studied the exact creek and groundwater basin that FMH is removing water from. The thesis states that the “unnamed tributary of Galatea Creek (watershed from which AEP has approved the removal of water) has a winter flow rate that is 2-4 times higher than most basins in the southeastern Canadian Rocky Mountains.” So that makes the water withdrawal all the more significant. This 236 page thesis’ opening sentence reads: “Groundwater storage is essential for maintaining steady stream flows and temperatures in mountain watersheds, yet catchment-scale hydrogeological processes remain poorly understood.” Page 23 of the thesis states how vital ground water catchment basins are. (exactly like the one AEP has approved water removal from). The author’s conclusion starts off, “Mountain regions are key sources of river flow both worldwide and specifically in the western Canadian Prairies. Groundwater is critical for maintaining streamflow in alpine zones, but detailed studies have been limited to only a few locations.”

Who is buying the water & what are they doing with it?

Fortress Mountain Holdings are currently selling the water themselves under the label Rok Glacier.

RGW is currently sold at Rapid Ascent Brewing in Calgary. Rapid Ascent Brewing also confirmed they’ll be using Fortress water in their beers “moving forward”.

RGW Instagram states that water is “Available online mid August 2020...In stores end of August in Alberta and November for western Canada”.

RGW touts that their water is “untouched by the Industrial Revolution”.

Lack of transparency/public input

This article by Associate Law Professor Shaun Fluker, does an excellent job of detailing the lack of transparency and public input into this water licence amendment.

There were 246 statements of concern (and 13 of support) in relation to this licence. None were deemed to be directly affected by the decision.

There were 2 appeals filed against this licence amendment. One by Ken Hoover who lives in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and one by the Stoney Nakoda Nation (SNN). Both of these appeals were denied. The linked letter from SNN is worth a read. One direct quote from the SNN letter: “The sheer volume of ad hominem, inaccuracies, incorrect statutory interpretation, and bullying present in Fortress' letter is staggering. The Board should ensure that Fortress is made aware that it cannot conduct itself so poorly and unprofessionally and that it is subject to the same legal burdens as every other proponent. Fortress should not be granted any particular benefit or shown any favour, particularly since it has shown a propensity for attempting to mislead, insult, and otherwise question the credibility of the Board and SNN.”

The Stoney Nakoda Nation are currently taking the province of Alberta (article by SprawlCalgary) to court over the water license amendment.

I personally experienced pressure from FMH to quell my public campaign against the water licence amendment.

Some back story: I’m an ACMG Ski Guide. I periodically work for the Outdoor Centre, who have an MOU with FMH to allow the Outdoor Centre to operate on the Fortress Lease area to run avalanche courses and other winter programs.

Following my first Instagram Post critiquing the selling of water by Fortress, FMH contacted my boss to have him ask me to stop my postings. The Outdoor Centre was exceptionally understanding and supportive with me. I continued my posts with the goal of bringing attention to this water issue. FMH then banned me from having work-based access to Fortress (see email). I wrote to Kananaskis Approvals Office and cited the fact that the ACMG has a permit to operate in Kananaskis Country. They said there was nothing they could do.

In the same email, Chris Mueller, Director of Operations Fortress Mountain Resort, said to me: “I would, solely from one ‘good guy’ to another, suggest caution in your absolute accuracy if that is a road you wish to go down”. I felt threatened by this.

AEP issued water amendment despite contradicting factors

  • The Alberta Water Act states that: “To promote conservation of Water: An application for amendment for change of purpose may only apply to water that is being used under the licence at the time of application, or, to promote conservation of water, has been used by the licensee in the previous 3 years, or is identified as a quantity of water that has been used and subsequently conserved by an identified project initiated after January 1, 1999. “FMH has not used water in the last 3 years (it’s been ~16 years!). Why was AEP’s own guidance ignored in this case? This is the question I posed to Pauline Scoffield, the Water Act coordinator assigned to process the amendment application (see email). She did not answer my question. In FMH's 253 page application they state on page 3: ”The chairlifts and daylodge at Fortress have been closed to the public since approximately December 2004 and as such there has been no water usage. The Government of Alberta (through AEP) knew and understood that there would be no (or limited) use until the new chair lifts and new Daylodge are completed.“
  • The original Fortress Lease issued in 2010 states: “The Lessee shall use the Lands solely for the purposes of construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair and operation of a winter alpine and ski resort facility and incidental winter sports facilities for the enjoyment of all Albertans and visitors to this Province...”

    The current lease states: “The Disposition Holder shall only use the Lands for a winter alpine and ski resort facilities;”

    Selling water via tanker truck is not, in my opinion, “...winter sports facilities for the enjoyment of all Albertans...”
  • I asked Pauline Scoffield, the Water Act coordinator assigned to process the application, if political pressure pushed the amendment through against her department's wishes. Her answer was grey (see email). Miranda Rosin (Banff-Kananaskis MLA) said the project (water amendment) was approved, “simply because it met the regulatory requirements necessary…” (source).

    While trying to understand Ms. Rosin’s role, I noticed she claimed expenses for 3 meals with “Fortress”. One dinner on June 7th, 2019 and a breakfast & lunch on June 15th, 2019 when she toured the Fortress area. See pages 18 and 20 on her expense reports. I'm sure there's a valid explanation and I would love to hear from Ms. Rosin directly. So, I submitted a FOIP request for all her emails and texts and they relate to the FMH water amendment. The FOIP request was denied. I was told to contact Ms. Rosin’s office directly for the records, which I did (twice) via email. I have not received a reply.
  • Hal Danchilla was (and currently still is) a paid lobbyist on behalf of FMH (Alberta lobbyist record). This email clearly shows that Hal Danchilla was at a meeting with Aster Wang, who is the Water Approval Team Lead for Alberta.
  • This Biologist had concerns over the water hauling trucks and wildlife interactions. His recommendations do not appear to have been followed in full. Specifically: 1) The biologist recommended "restraints" on hauling during late spring and summer (to allow for wildlife birthing). The only time AEP does not allow water trucks to haul from Fortress are May 1st to June 15th. 2) The biologist recommended a limit on the number of trucks. AEP has allowed up to 15 trucks per day. Those trucks are allowed to haul from 8am to 5pm (9 hour window). So, 15 trucks during a 9 hour window is one truck every 36 minutes!. The biologist states the Fortress road closure was maintained in part due to disturbance to wildlife. So, the general public can't access the road but 15,000kg tanker trunks every 36 minutes is fine.

    This wildlife study confirmed the following animals in the Fortress lease: Grizzly bear, black bear, grey wolves, coyote, lynx, cougar, martin, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, moose, many other smaller animals, 21 bird species and 4 bat species. The report states that 7 different grizzly bears were present in the Fortress Lease and that one female Grizzly bear denned within the lease area. The original lease only allowed for winter use. (Bears of course hibernate). In this email AEP said: “...the area in and around Fortress Mountain is considered critical Grizzly bear habitat.” In this same email it confirms that FMH asked to have the spring closure and daylight water hauling hour limitations removed/amended from the permit! FMH in a June 2020 document is asking AEP to let them offer guided summer hiking. Update — looks like this was approved ATV hiking, kpow promo.

Where to go from here?

I believe that both AEP’s granting of this amendment and also the Government’s closed-door process of how it did so are wrong. I believe that motivated and informed people taking action can make a difference.

Actions you can take:

  • Vote with your wallet and apply social pressure to Rok Glacier Water, Rapid Ascent Brewing, KPow Cat Skiing, Fortress Mountain Resort and all retailers selling Rok Glacier Water.
  • FMH is currently trying to obtain financing from the Business Development Bank of Canada (proof). The BDC is owned by the federal government and reports to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, who is currently Mary Ng. If you have concerns over water being sold (especially considering the Stoney Nakoda have pending legal action), you can write to Minister Mary Ng to express those concerns.


Neil Warren

Get in touch: and @conservekananskis.