Calgary

Okotoks looks to province as water runs short

Okotoks is putting pressure on the provincial government to modify its policy on municipal water permits so that the town can accommodate its growth.
Okotoks, which has grown rapidly in recent years, is running short on water. ((CBC))
Okotoks is putting pressure on the provincial government to modify its policy on municipal water permits so that the town can accommodate its growth.

Alberta has stopped issuing new licenses allowing municipalities to pump water from rivers.

But Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson met with Environment Minister Rob Renner last week to request an exemption, arguing that the town has a water shortage problem.

"We've been extremely responsible with our water. We are the lowest water users in the province of Alberta," he said, adding that the town recycles 75 per cent of the water it takes from the Sheep River.

But for Okotoks to be able to expand beyond 26,000 residents, it will have to either convince the province to make an exemption on its moratorium, or start pumping water from Calgary, the mayor said.

"We'd rather be in control of our own town," Robertson said, adding that the cost of a pipeline from the city would be prohibitive in any case.

A third option is for the town to purchase an existing license from another municipality for about $1 million, he said.

Okotoks isn't the only municipality facing these challenges in southern Alberta, where water is a scarce resource, said Joe Obad, associate director of the Water Matters Society, a watershed protection group.

Giving Okotoks a special deal would set a harmful precedent, he said.

"It tells all other water licensees in Alberta that it's legal to take up to three times, or maybe more, of your license from the river, as long as you return it."

A spokesman with Alberta Environment said a decision will be made before the end of the year.

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