Special Areas Water Supply Project back on the table

Bryan Passifiume
ECA Review Reporter

Proponents of a water diversion project that promises to bring irrigation and recreational opportunities to east central Alberta gave an update to Paintearth County Council on Tuesday, November 20.
The Special Areas Water Supply Project has been in the works since 1988, and was orginally conceived as a network of open-cut canals and reservoirs that would divert water from the Red Deer River to points east.
On hand to give an update of the project to council was Environmental Consultant Ron Middleton, Project Manager John Englert from Alberta Transportation and Jay Slemp, chair of the Special Areas Board.

The project, which originally called for diverting seven cubic meters of water per second from the Red Deer River has since been reduced to 2.5 cubic meters. This reduced amount, according to Ron Middleton, puts the project on par with some of the lower-quantity diversion projects in Alberta.
“It’s not a very big project,” Middleton told Paintearth Council. “It’s extensive and complicated, but not very big.”
The project entails drafting water from two points on the Red Deer River near Nevis and transporting it to the headwaters of Sounding and Berry Creeks.
Direct users of the water will be stockmen and farmers, both along the route and at the terminus of the project. Added benefits, according to the presentation, include increasing waterfowl habitats, opportunity for expanded water-based recreation and enhancing riparian areas.
When originally proposed over 20 years ago, the project consisted of a network of open-cut canals to carry the water from the Red Deer River. According to Middleton, advances in pipeline technology, coupled with the reduction of the scope of the project has made distributing the water through pipes a more feasible and attractive option.
Pipeline routes do not have to follow land contours or topography, which allows engineers to optimize the route to lessen the impact to landowners. Enclosing the water in a pipe also reduces evaporation losses, and protects water quality.
“My main concerns are minimizing the impact of the project and maintaining the water quality,” Middleton said. “Once it reaches the special areas, it would effectively run through open creek channels because we want the water available to ranchers all along the route.”
Water would be stored at two proposed reservoir sites, one at the existing Lehman reservoir southwest of Coronation, and another north of Oyen on Sounding Creek. The expansion of the Lehman reservoir would involve installing a second dam downstream of the current one, creating a body of water 500 hectares in size.
The next step of the process, according to Alberta Transportation’s John Englert, is the public consultation phase. Information for landowners and stakeholders, in addition to a series of public hearings, will be coming soon.
“The whole point of the hearings are for the panel to hear both sides,” said Middleton.
The primary issues that the group will propose to the public include canals versus pipes, route selection, irrigation allocation and evaluating storage needs. The team hopes to complete the public consultations and environmental assessments by the end of 2015.
Council Reeve George Glazier told the delegation that he feels the project would be a positive benefit for local tourism and economic development.
“It would certainly make Lehman reservoir more valuable for recreation,” Glazier told council. “Without water, there’s no opportunity for economic growth.”

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