News | January 03, 2011

This article was originally published in the Calgary Herald on January 1, 2011

By Kelly Cryderman

The town of Okotoks has lost its bid to withdraw significantly greater volumes of water from the Sheep River than permitted under local licences.

Alberta Environment has given the fast-growing town permission to purchase two local water licences -- one from an oil and gas company, and one from a family. The water licence transfers add 245,340 cubic metres to the town's allocated supply.But the government has turned down the town's additional request it be allowed to withdraw three times more water than is laid out in the two licences.

Okotoks made the argument it should be given special permission because it will return 80 per cent of the water to the watershed after treating it.

"The Water Act does not allow it," said Alberta Environment spokeswoman Cara Tobin.Government lawyers advised the department no water licence transfer can result in an increase in the volume of water taken out of the system, she said."We will continue to work with the town regarding their water supply options," Tobin said.

Rick Quail, municipal manager in Okotoks, said town officials are analyzing Alberta Environment's decision. He didn't speak about other water sources the town might pursue.

"We are consulting with legal counsel and reviewing options going forward with respect to whether or not we're going to lodge an appeal through the Environmental Appeals Board," Quail said.

The town's attempt to garner three times the water laid out in the two licences garnered significant opposition from environmental and irrigation organizations, who said the scheme could hurt already taxed southern Alberta water supplies along with other water users.

Four years ago, the Alberta government introduced a moratorium on new requests for water from the South Saskatchewan River Basin. It was a preliminary water conservation measure for the most parched part of the province -- the river basin holds only one-fifth of the province's water, but supplies more than half of Alberta's population.  Municipalities or developers seeking water in southern Alberta must now purchase an existing water licence.

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