Gull Lake stabilization project comes under scrutiny

An Alberta Environment study has raised doubts about the effectiveness of a long-running project to stabilize Gull Lake by pumping water from a nearby river.

An Alberta Environment study has raised doubts about the effectiveness of a long-running project to stabilize Gull Lake by pumping water from a nearby river.

“They’re questioning it certainly,” said Lacombe County commissioner Terry Hager on Thursday.

Alberta Environment found the average water level increase in summer months when pumping is underway is only seven cm. The total amount the lake has risen since the program was begun in 1974 is 21 cm.

However, since pumping is limited to times when the lake drops below a certain level and the river is high enough to provide water, pumping has only taken place 17 out of the past 30 years.

“One of the fundamental questions that needs to be discussed is if there is an appreciable benefit to retaining the pumping project,” says Hager in a report to council.

The county must also consider the impact of the pumping on existing future residential and recreational development, potential liability if the municipality takes on a bigger role and the project’s long-term sustainability.

First, council wants to take a closer look at how the province came to its assessment of the project, said Hager.

“They had to put it through a model,” he said. “We need further analysis on that so we have a clearer understanding as well.”

In 2009, municipalities around the lake were alarmed by reports the province was considering dropping the 25-year-old project to maintain water levels in Gull Lake by pumping water out of the Blindman River. Lake levels can drop dramatically during dry periods because the lake is naturally not fed by a river.

The county appealed to the environment minister to maintain the program. The minister offered provincial cash for maintenance and capital costs if the municipalities covered the annual power bill for the pumps, which is typically around $100,000 to $150,000 a year. A number of meetings between provincial and municipal officials has not resulted in an agreement yet.

Meanwhile, the province undertook its review of the whole stabilization program.

County council passed a resolution on Thursday that its representatives further investigate the benefits of the lake stabilization plan and review the model that was used by Alberta Environment to determine those benefits.

A meeting with Environment Minister Rob Renner has been set for March 23 with Lacombe and Ponoka Counties and the Summer Villages of Gull Lake and Parkland Beach.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com