Alberta hamlets seek water licence for Sask. River basin

Cypress County has completed infrastructure necessary to bring in potable drinking water after 20 years of boil water advisories

The hamlets of Irvine and Walsh in southeastern Alberta might soon have access to a clean, reliable supply of drinking water from the South Sask-atchewan River via Medicine Hat.

There is only one big obstacle: a water licence.

The South Saskatchewan River Basin has been closed to new water licences since August 2006, with a few exceptions for First Nations and approved water storage projects.

That means Cypress County must find a way to bring water to the two hamlets within its jurisdiction.

The county has completed a pipeline to service them and will soon complete two storage reservoirs and pump houses for the project, said county councillor Garry Lentz.

“We presently do provide water in the hamlets of Irvine and Walsh, but Walsh comes from a reservoir in the hills and Irvine comes from wells,” said Lentz.

High mineral content has made the water difficult to treat and those sources can also be unreliable in times of drought.

“We’ve held up some development in Walsh and Irvine because we didn’t have a real good water supply. The water’s always been of lower quality there, so this will give first quality drinking water to those hamlets.”

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Lentz said Walsh has had boil water advisories for some 20 years, and although the county has spent several million dollars on water treatment, results have been unsatisfactory.

Now it is a matter of finding people who have water licences to sell, negotiating a price and then getting approval from the Alberta environment department.

Kathleen Murphy, approvals manager for Alberta Environment, said there are many water licence transfer arrangements made annually, each of which must go through a public process and department review.

“What Alberta Environment looks at is what effect that transfer would have on the aquatic environment and other licensees and whether there’s a connection between the transferring parties in terms of where the water comes from and where the water is going to,” said Murphy. “Then there’s a public process where notice is provided of the transfer going forward.”

Murphy said Cypress County’s application is in progress and the department is now confirming its need for the water.

“It has taken a little longer than Cypress County has wanted but the good news is the one for Irvine and Walsh is at the top of the list and is being worked on right now.”

Lentz said the county tried to obtain licences for the two hamlets in the early 1980s, when it installed water and sewer lines at Irvine with the goal of servicing more residential development.

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The environment department at the time deemed that to be a speculative use and denied the licence.

“We had a pretty good idea of what we needed for water rights and it would have been wonderful if we could have got that. We wouldn’t be in the predicament that we’re in right now,” Lentz said.

However, he said the county is reasonably confident it can obtain the needed licence this year.

After that, it will seek licences for 100 acre-feet of water to service a rural water co-op that would supply domestic water to rural residents in the region.

Many now haul water from Medicine Hat and store it in cisterns for household use.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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