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Long-term water solution closer to reality for Okotoks, Foothills County

The supplemental water solution is projected to allow Okotoks to approve approximately 20,000 more homes, according to CAO Elaine Vincent.
Sheep River
The Town of Okotoks is moving forward with public advertisements on water license transfers and the building of facilities as part of its water solution with Foothills County.

A supplemental water solution for Okotoks and Foothills County is closer now than ever before. 

In last week's edition of The Wheel, five public notices were published by the Town; three of which are notices of water license transfers, one for the building of a new intake next to the Bow River and one outlining the change in function of the water treatment plant, which will now process water from both the Sheep and Bow rivers. 

"In totality, these five regulatory items are what we need to actually approve the supplemental water line," said CAO Elaine Vincent. 

"This is the long-term water solution for the Town." 

According to Vincent, the Town has about 600 homes it can approve with the current water license allocation from the Sheep River. 

The supplemental water solution from the Bow River is currently forecast to allow the Town to approve about 20,000 more homes. 

Okotoks has a long history of purchasing water license transfers, according to Vincent, although they have traditionally been on the Sheep River. In this instance, three notices are being issued to draw water from the Bow River for the first time. 

Licenses allow the designated amount of water to be used for municipal services. 

The South Saskatchewan River Basin, to which the Bow River leads, is a closed basin, Vincent explained, so new water licenses cannot be issued. If one wishes to draw water from that body, an existing license must be purchased from its current owner. 

This is not the case in northern Alberta, where new licenses can be obtained by submitting an application to Alberta Environment. 

Advertising public notices in the newspaper is a big step for the project, Vincent added. Publishing these notices means that Alberta Environment and Parks has granted approval to do so and is prepared to move forward. 

"Alberta Environment and Parks is the regulator, they're satisfied that the proposal for the supplementary water line makes sense to them," she said. "Now, they're prepared to require the advertisements." 

Following the 30-day window allotted for feedback on those notices, assessments will be made regarding any and all objections that are received before moving on to the next step, which would be going out to tender on the construction. 

After that, the water main, reservoir, pump station and intake will be built. 

"The project we're working towards is that water is flowing by August of 2025," said Vincent. 

The project, dubbed The Foothills Okotoks Regional Water Project, could potentially be financed entirely through grants, off-site levies and municipal shares from both parties. 

Vincent said that grants have yet to be secured but news on that is expected within the next month. 

The hope is to get grant and regulatory approval this year so construction can begin in 2023. She added this would put the construction timeline at two years. 

"This the first time it's felt concrete because we actually have approval right now from Alberta Environment and Parks to advertise that the solution we're proposing makes sense," she added. 

"People now have the opportunity to object to that." 

The supplemental water source from the Bow River is a great option from a resiliency perspective, Vincent said, and Okotoks would have a secondary source for water supply should the project be approved. 

However, the Town will always have watering restrictions to ensure that everyone has access to safe water, she said. 

She explained that this is due to a few factors, one of which is constraints on raw water production. The Town's 13 wells draw from the Sheep River to the water treatment plant and during the summer months, water demand increases by about 50 per cent, even as water levels in the Sheep River drop, reducing the amount that can be pumped into the treatment plant. 

It is possible that license restrictions surrounding how much water can be pumped may also come into effect during that time. 

"This means that as the Sheep River is still our main water supply, and it is known to have peaks of high and low flows, the Town will always have watering requirements to ensure everyone has access to safe water for use," she said. 

The public notices can be viewed via The Wheel's June 22 e-edition

For more information about the Town and County's long-term water solution, visit okotoks.ca.

 


Lauryn Heintz

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