Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman posed direct questions to Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen during question period on Tuesday, October 23, asking for an explanation and what the government is going to do to help those affected.
In September, a spillgate at the Carolside dam on the southern tip of Berry Hill Reservoir malfunctioned, resulting in a massive loss of water from the reservoir.
Strankman accuses the government of mismanagement in its handling of the spill, and wants to know who will be held accountable for the accident.
“If a private individual, business or corporation had done the damage, someone would be held financially responsible,” Strankman said. “I want to know what the protocol is — do they have a plan?”
The loss of water in the reservoir is a concern for local landowners, who rely on the reservoir for irrigation. Also affected are the fish in the reservoir, who may not survive the winter if the low water levels cause the water to freeze solid.
Another concern is the makeshift cotter dam, which according to Strankman might cause turbidity issues downstream.
“It is a disaster,” said Strankman. “Everybody makes mistakes, but somebody needs to be held responsible.”
Jay Slemp, chairman of the Special Areas Board, says that it is too early to call the incident a ‘disaster.’
“We really don’t know until next year to see what the effects are,” said Slemp. “We’re working with Alberta Environment to figure out what to do next.”
Slemp says that while the water levels are indeed low, spring run-off may increase water levels.
The dam itself was built in the early 1960s. A 2005 review determined that the dam needed to be replaced and construction of a new dam took place over the summer.
A request was made with ESRD Minister McQueen’s office for comment on this article, but as of press time there was no response.
According to Carrie Sancartier, spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, a salvage fishery has been organized to harvest fish from the reservoir before the freeze.
“The levels are lower than typical,” Sancartier said. “Our biologists are concerned that there might not be enough oxygen [in the water] for the fish to survive.
A license is required to take part of the salvage fishery, which runs until Friday, November 23. The fishery is open to recreational fisherman only and license holders are not permitted to sell any of their catch.