Sylvan Lake takes first step toward securing water supply

Sylvan Lake has enough water to serve a population of 20,000 — a threshold not so far away considering the community’s popularity. After that, either the community will have to add to its eight water wells or — the preferred option — be hooked up to Red Deer and its treatment plant.

Sylvan Lake has enough water to serve a population of 20,000 — a threshold not so far away considering the community’s popularity.

After that, either the community will have to add to its eight water wells or — the preferred option — be hooked up to Red Deer and its treatment plant.

The first step in that process was cleared recently when Red Deer city council agreed to provide a water supply to Sylvan Lake on a number of conditions, most importantly that municipal members of the Sylvan Lake Regional Water/Wastewater Commission foot the bill.

Town of Sylvan Lake public works director Dave Brand said the town has recently drilled a new water well. Combined with seven other wells, plus a backup, there should be enough water to sustain a community of around 20,000.

“We’re looking at securing our short-term supply for the three-to-five-year time frame,” he said. “Moving beyond that, into the longer term, we definitely need to be able to source some supply other than just individual shallow wells.”

Considering Sylvan Lake’s population is 14,310 and growing at roughly five per cent a year, the town has a few years before it must look for more water. The province doesn’t allow communities to draw from the lake.

If Sylvan Lake and the other members of the commission, which includes Red Deer and Lacombe Counties and five summer villages, wants to pursue water line to Red Deer, the work must begin well in advance.

“Generally speaking, the process itself typically takes a number of years from approval through to actual construction, being hooked up and operational,” he said.

The idea of connecting Red Deer to communities around Sylvan Lake by water and a matching sewer line has been tossed around for more than a decade. A regional water line from Red Deer to Ponoka went into operation 10 years ago.

Those kinds of big-ticket projects can only happen with significant provincial investment. Alberta government’s Water for Life Strategy bankrolled up to 90 per cent of previous projects, including the recently completed $132-million Red Deer-to-Olds sewer line.

But how much funding will be available in the new government’s budget is anyone’s guess.

Commission chairman Thom Jewell said the city’s support was an important step.

“We’re pleased that the city has looked at and are working with our regional collaboration.”

The province has also been supportive of the initiative and funded early technical studies. The next step is to line up cash for detailed engineering and get Alberta Transportation approval to run the water line down the Hwy 11A right-of-way.

Jewell, who is mayor of Birchcliff, said they have had no word yet on what funding may be coming or when.

The cost of the engineering work has not been determined. The line itself will likely be in the $20-million to $30-million range.

Alberta Transportation oversees the province’s Water for Life Strategy and spokesman Bob McManus said the department continues to “evaluate specific proposals on an ongoing basis and work with municipalities to address local water and wastewater needs.

“We understand that reduced funding for this important grant program means that a number of projects in some communities haven’t proceeded,” says McManus in an email.

“This is something that we’ll be looking at as our government develops a new budget for the fall.”

Both Lacombe and Blackfalds are in the queue, lobbying hard for a $40-million regional sewer line connecting their communities to Red Deer.

That would be the second leg of a regional system, with a Red Deer-to-Sylvan Lake sewer line the third leg.

Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol and Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie met with Alberta Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason last month and he recognized the need for the communities to address their sewage issues.

The province agreed to fund a needs analysis that is now underway.

However, no indication was given of when, or if, provincial funding will be available for the project.

Stol said it makes sense to tackle the province’s infrastructure backlog during the current downturn when prices are lower and more people are in need of work.

Too often in the past, municipalities have found themselves competing with the private sector during construction booms.

“We need get our timing better and build infrastructure now,” she said.

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