A regional water pipeline from Calgary to Okotoks didn’t make the list of water projects to receive $117 million in provincial funding announced last week.
Alberta Transportation unveiled a list of water and wastewater projects in communities across the province slated to receive funding on June 24.
The Town of Okotoks asked for as much as $35 million from the provincial Water for Life program to cover 90 per cent of the cost of a water pipeline to secure an adequate supply for future growth of the town. More than $18 million was dispersed to 16 water projects under Water for Life, but Okotoks was not included on the list.
“It’s very concerning that the Province didn’t prioritize our funding needs that we’ve articulated so many times in terms of priority,” said Okotoks CAO Rick Quail.
The Province earmarked $595 million over the next five years to fund water and wastewater infrastructure improvement to provide increased access to safe, reliable water for Albertans.
Quail said it will take two to three years to have water flowing from Calgary to Okotoks once pipeline construction begins, and having to wait for funding puts the Town in a difficult position.
“That means we we’ve got two to three more years of delicate, precarious growth management given the limited water supply,” said Quail. “We are literally, as a community, at a stand-still from a managerial point of view, from an economic development point of view.
“We need a regional water supply to be able to facilitate economic growth and development and create jobs.”
He said the provincial government needs to consider the urgency of a water pipeline for the Okotoks area, because there are no other options left for the region.
With a moratorium on additional water licenses in the South Saskatchewan River basin, the Town’s hands are tied without a pipeline, he said.
“The time has come, and we really need our government’s support,” said Quail. “The Government of Alberta needs to help this community address the perplexing dilemma we’re in. We’re behind the eight ball, as a community, right now.”
Coun. Tanya Thorn said she was deeply disappointed Okotoks was not part of the first round of Water for Life funding announcements.
After weeks of attempting to contact Brian Mason, Alberta minister of infrastructure and transportation, Thorn said she was told last week before the funding announcement that Okotoks’ issue is still being worked on and the Town should expect an announcement in the next couple of weeks.
The extent of that announcement is unknown, but Thorn said she’s pleased to know the Town’s water situation is still being reviewed by the Province.
“The fact they called me and they’re still working on it shows there’s still a light in the tunnel,” she said.
She said in the past, the Town has been told communities with water quality issues are higher priority. She intends to review the list of approved projects to see whether they are all classified as water-quality issues.
The Town needs put more demand on the Province for answers, she said.
“Now is the time Okotoks really needs to change the pressure in the game. We need some definitive answers from the Province on whether or not they deem Okotoks a priority.”
Mayor Bill Robertson said he is still “cautiously optimistic” that Okotoks will see a commitment to funding for its pipeline in the coming weeks.
He said the Town needs to prove to the Province the waterline will bring value to the entire region, not just Okotoks.
“I believe it fits in with the criteria they set out and certainly we’re over-sizing the pipeline to accommodate regional growth,” said Robertson. “Because of that, I’m confident we’ll be able to get some funding. We need to move things along for the benefit of our community.”