Special Areas water supply project study underway

After nearly 85 years, the final terms of the proposed Alberta Transportation Special Areas Water Supply Project is underway.
The parameters of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was finalized on March 22 and outlines the extensive nature of the project and what it will accomplish. It will also outline the environmental impacts on the land it will occupy.
This project was thought of in response to the expanding irrigation in the Lethbridge and Brooks areas back in the 1930’s. The goal of the project is to mitigate drought during the hot summer months.
“We are expecting to wrap up a three-year Environmental Impact Assessment project so what that work will encompass will be all the factors of the project so there will be a socioeconomic study on it,” began Special Areas Board Chair Jordon Christianson.
“We are looking at all the environmental, historical, and finalizing some preliminary engineering details on the project so we will put all of that together, and by fall we will have a completed Environmental Impact Assessment.
Depending on the outcome of that, we will decide on whether or not we want to move that project forward.”
A summary of the system found on the Government of Alberta website explains that this is a multi-purpose water supply project that would divert water from the Red Deer River to East Central Alberta including the Special Areas.
It would take residency in the County of Stettler, County of Paintearth, and Special Areas 2, 3, and 4.
“It was really about drought proofing. A big portion of Special Areas has been in using existing channels and creek systems to actually move water from the Red Deer River to the eastern portions of Special Areas. So I think it is really about that drought proofing the region.
“I know there is some irrigation project, but really the intent is just getting a reliable supply of water out to this area. The eastern part of the province is highly prone to droughts, and often it is a lack of water that we deal with out here,” said Christianson.
A 97.5 kilometre pipeline will stretch from the Red Deer River southwest of Stettler down to a storage reservoir at the headwaters of the Sounding and Berry Creeks which are located at the northwestern boundary of the Special Areas.
The pump station and new pipeline will draw water from the Red Deer to the Sounding and Berry Creek basins through existing streams, improved natural channels and canals. A number of reservoirs will store and release water through this system.
The most recent engineering study for the project estimates a cost upwards of $410.3 million which includes everything from construction to land acquisitions to engineering. It would span over four years to construct.
Annual operating costs are expected to reach $5.5 million with $3.2 million towards energy costs alone.
There was an opportunity to voice opinions before the EIA requirements were accepted. Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) Conservation Specialist Carolyn Campbell addressed the associations concerns through a letter.
The group feels that this pipeline will have benefit to a small amount of people attached to a giant bill and environmental footprint.
“Virtually all of the potential irrigable areas appear to be adjacent to creeks or lakes, and conversion of these lands to more intensive forage, hay and feed grains will significantly affect riparian and aquatic habitat, including water quantity and quality, bank erosion and invasives potential.
Riparian habitat in this arid region is disproportionately important to many resident and migratory wildlife species and these impacts must be considered,” she said.
The association was also concerned about the financial impact this project would have when the economy has not been steadily increasing.
“In a time of provincial budget deficits, we are concerned with the financial burden of this project that will benefit relatively few people at a high cost, high energy footprint and significant environmental risk.
“The Special Areas Water Supply Project has been studied many times and was abandoned for good reason. AWA is concerned that the government is bringing this forward again, and we do not see a need to pipe water for non-household use to arid regions of the province,” said Campbell.
Residents within the Special Areas have ‘mixed feelings’ about the project and are waiting for the assessment results to make a final decision.
“Certainly there are some people that say it is a project that isn’t needed. There are others that are more strongly supportive of the project. You hear both sides of the argument,” said Christianson.

Terri Huxley
ECA Review

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