Stettler county council questions water licenses enforcement

Written by Stu Salkeld

Stettler county council discussed a tense situation occurring at a lake located within the municipality and wondered if the provincial government’s water licensing system relies too much on the honour system.

The discussion occurred at the Sept. 13 regular meeting of council.

Reeve Larry Clarke began the discussion by stating he wanted the topic of “Shooting Lake water levels” added to the agenda, adding that he wanted the issue discussed in the public arena.

Shooting Lake is located roughly 15 minutes east of Stettler, south of the Hamlet of Gadsby. Clarke stated the County of Stettler has received written complaints from residents about Shooting Lake’s water levels and Clarke wanted an update from county staff about whether the complaints were investigated.

Director of Municipal Services Andrew Brysiuk fielded Clarke’s question, noting the County of Stettler did indeed receive written complaints from residents of the Shooting Lake area that a neighbour was diverting water from the lake.

The County of Settler reached out to Alberta Environment about the issue because such an issue is the provincial government ministry’s responsibility and one which the county has no authority over.

Brysiuk stated the response back from Alberta Environment is that the landowner in question does in fact possess a valid license to divert water from Shooting Lake.

However, Brysiuk noted all such water licenses include a condition that water may not be drawn from the lake if the water body’s level drops below a certain point.

Readers should note most of central and southern Alberta are currently in historic drought conditions.

Brysiuk stated the County of Stettler couldn’t get confirmation from Alberta Environment that the condition was in fact followed and it was also mentioned at the meeting that neighbours submitted evidence that suggested water was drawn from the lake after the lake’s level dropped past the “do not draw” threshold.

Brysiuk stated this is not the first time the County of Stettler’s had difficulty obtaining information from Alberta Environment regarding a complaint or situation similar to this one. He stated that it seems water licenses and the conditions within them are to an extent handled on an honour system.

Apparently giving up on contacting Alberta Environment staff for this particular issue, Reeve Clarke noted the County of Stettler has been trying to set up a personal meeting with Environment Minister Rebecca Schultz to discuss this and other issues within the municipality.

Clarke stated climatologists have provided information to the County of Stettler that suggest strongly this coming winter is not going to provide enough moisture to fully recharge groundwater levels, which will obviously affect producers. A conflict over water licenses isn’t going to help the situation.

“I don’t want a range war,” said Clarke.

Coun. James Nibourg wondered if the County of Stettler, which rents equipment used to pump water, should include a warning that such equipment isn’t to be used illegally.

During the ensuing discussion councillors noted evidence needs to be collected and evaluated to determine if something illegal actually occurred.

Coun. Dave Grover pointed out some of the rental equipment is used on private property and in those situations the renter can do as they wish. Grover noted, however, the lake is public property.

Coun. Justin Stevens stated he was frustrated that Alberta Environment includes these conditions in water licenses but obviously doesn’t have enough staff to enforce them.
“That’s the frustrating part to me,” said Stevens.

Reeve Clarke asked how likely it was to get a meeting with Schultz, to which Brysiuk responded county staff will try to get a meeting this fall; if that fails, next spring is a possibility but that’s the same time spring thaw occurs, leaving it very late.

In response to a question from Reeve Clarke, Brysiuk added that recent damage to a County of Stettler culvert is also being investigated. He said some evidence has been recovered and the investigation continues.

Councillors unanimously passed a resolution that county staff will request a meeting with the environment minister to discuss this and other issues.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.