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COLUMN: Increased water brings new worry

The Foothills Okotoks Regional Water Project will provide a long-term water solution, but will also bring development pressures.
NEWS-Sheep River BWC 0077 web
The Sheep River flows under the Laurie Boyd Bridge on June 19.

I might not be fully grasping the situation, but it appears to me there’s an ongoing concern out there that Okotoks won’t have enough water as well as a more recent worry that it might soon have too much. 

Planning continues on the Foothills Okotoks Regional Water Project, an undertaking that would draw from the Bow River for the first time and provide what the Town and County view as a long-term water solution for the region. Given the limitations of the current set-up, I would have thought the idea of having a significantly larger and more resilient water supply would be welcomed with open arms and that civic officials would be feted for their efforts to make this a reality. 

The worry about turning on the tap and nothing coming out, regardless of how ill-informed that might be, would finally be put to rest should this project come to fruition, which in turn should make water a non-issue moving forward. That doesn’t appear it will be the case. 

The long-term solution now in the works would provide access to a lot more water, enough, in fact, to allow the Town to approve about 20,000 more homes. That doesn’t mean the Town is going to provide the OK for 20,000 more homes, it just means it would have the water supply to accommodate such a number. 

This abundance of natural riches has, not surprisingly, created worry for some people that Okotoks will grow into a place they won’t recognize or, in a worst-case scenario, no longer want to call home. Given this is an enviable place to live -- big enough to have pretty much all the amenities you’d need or want, but still small enough to retain its charm and character -- it’s an understandable concern. 

Those who dare to mess with that fine line between the present and what’s often labeled as “progress” do so at their peril. Even though Okotoks has absorbed a significant amount of growth over the last couple of decades, I believe it’s managed to maintain its small-town feel, but I’m looking at it through 2022 eyes, so I suspect some might see it differently. 

There’s always a tipping point and for some, that threshold might have already been reached; others appear to be nearing the end of that rope. From what I’ve been able to gather in my short time here, elected officials are mindful of such sensibilities, to the point that Okotoks is still officially a town despite a population that would easily qualify it as a city. 

Semantics can only take you so far, however, so it will be the inevitable decisions on growth that are coming down the road that will ultimately determine the future of this town. Up to now, that has largely been a moot point due to limited water capacity, but the prospect of an increased supply, which could arrive as soon as 2025, will ramp up those discussions.  

Access to more water is undoubtedly a good thing, but it will come with increased development pressure that, if not managed adeptly, could change the face of Okotoks forever. 

Ted Murphy

About the Author: Ted Murphy

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