Main source of Calgary drinking water needs protection from people, task force says

A task force is recommending that a risk management strategy be developed for the Bearspaw reservoir, which supplies drinking water to Calgary and Rocky View County and hydroelectricity for TransAlta.

Task force recommending risk management strategy for Bearspaw reservoir

A lack of regulation means that there are no restrictions on recreational use of the Bearspaw reservoir which supplies a majority of Calgary's drinking water. (CBC)

A task force is recommending that a risk management strategy be developed for the Bearspaw reservoir just northwest of Calgary.

The reservoir is a key source of drinking water for Calgary but it's also important to residents in Rocky View County and to TransAlta, which uses the water for hydro generation.

The reservoir was created in the 1950s following the construction of the Bearspaw dam on the Bow River. Located on the city's western boundary, it provides 60 to 65 per cent of Calgary's drinking water.

However, a lack of regulation means that there are no restrictions on recreational use of the water body.

With increasing development around the reservoir, there are concerns about the growing risks associated with human activity that could result in pollution, affecting water quality.

Last year, the city, the county and TransAlta put together a task force to discuss risks and management options for the reservoir.

Recommendations are in

The city's intergovernmental affairs committee discussed the task force report on Thursday.

The committee's vice-chair, Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, said there are plenty of reasons to look at regulating what can and cannot happen on the waterway.
"As the use and the pressures of the use recreationally increase and some of the other sort of concerns about climate change and stuff, it's high time that we put a management plan in place for this," said Carra.

The task force recommends that the city and the county hold a joint public consultation on a management strategy over the next six to eight months.

A strategy would then be presented to the city and the county in mid-2020. 

It is estimated that consultation would cost $100,000, which would be shared by the two governments.

The Bearspaw reservoir is located on Calgary's western boundary. (City of Calgary)

It's not a simple matter to bring in rules.

The reservoir touches both city and county land. The Bow is also a federally regulated navigable waterway. 

There are places to hand launch a canoe onto the reservoir but most river access is from Cochrane, 18 kilometres upstream.

Nothing like Glenmore Reservoir

It's quite a different situation than the Glenmore Reservoir, which lies entirely within Calgary's boundaries.

The city has a bylaw that restricts swimming and motorized boating on Glenmore. But no such rules exist on Bearspaw.

Harpreet Sandhu with the city's watershed strategy group said it's not something the city alone can regulate.

"Because of the multiple jurisdictions, we haven't really agreed to what regulated use would look like around Bearspaw at this point," she said.

The task force also identified concerns about public safety on the water body.

Some confusion about public safety issues

The RCMP are responsible for any water rescues on the reservoir. Rocky View County has a contract with the Town of Cochrane to use its fire department to assist when fire services are needed for rescue operations.

However, the task force found there are no resources for day-to-day surveillance and enforcement of any rules on the water.

Then there's just accessing the water in an emergency.

The task force report notes there's an emergency access route from Bearspaw Dam Road N.W. through a restricted security gate on the CP Railway line.

The City of Calgary's fire department's nearest station is in Tuscany.

"I know our public safety agencies are concerned about not having some clear lines of authority in terms of jurisdiction or bylaw or enforcement capability," said Sandhu.

City council will discuss the report's recommendations next month.


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