Communities hammering out deal to share stabilization costs

Municipalities around Gull Lake are finalizing a deal to share the costs of a lake stabilization pumping project.

Municipalities around Gull Lake are finalizing a deal to share the costs of a lake stabilization pumping project.

Ponoka County chief administrative officer Charlie Cutforth said council has agreed to commit to an agreement with Alberta Environment and Water to foot 40 per cent of the power bill for the pumps that draw water from the Blindman River into the lake. Lacombe County would also pick up 40 per cent and the Summer Villages of Gull Lake and Parkland Beach would split the rest under the proposal which has not yet been formalized.

In 2009, municipalities around the lake were alarmed by reports that the province was considering dropping the 25-year-old project to maintain lake levels by pumping in river water during dry periods.

Lake levels can drop dramatically during periods of drought because the lake is only replenished from springs and is not fed by a river.

Municipalities lobbied the province to continue the pumping project. The province agreed to pay for maintenance and capital costs for the pumps if the municipalities picked up the annual power costs.

Power costs vary year to year, but the typical range is $80,000 to $140,000. The plan is to put aside a set amount of money to pay the power bills. In years such as this one, when almost no pumping was required because of all the spring rain, that money would be pooled to be used in drier years when a lot of pumping is required.

“It’s a lot easier, especially for the smaller municipalities, to manage their budgets that way,” said Cutforth.

The four municipalities need to form an association before the deal can be closed. “There’s certainly willingness among all four parties to put this together and ensure that stabilization continues,” he said.

“Gull Lake is a unique lake in that there is no natural inlet or outlet,” he added. “The fact is the county has allowed substantial development around the lake, and as such we have an obligation to those folks to see that it is usable.”

Not all agree that the pumping is necessary, he acknowledges. Some doubt the pumping makes much difference but others say if no stabilization was done the lake could drop five cm a year during dry spells.

For a body of water that is largely considered a recreational resource, it is important to keep the lake healthy. Already shallow, if the water level is allowed to go down, it could lead to more weed growth and impact fish and waterfowl habitats.

Cutforth said demand for lake-area properties shows no sign of abating.

“We just about monthly continue to have applications for development even though, obviously, the market has softened considerably. There’s still lots of interest out there.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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