The Village of Beiseker is proposing an inter-municipal information meeting in hopes of dealing with problems facing ratepayers of the Kneehill Regional Water Services Commission.
A letter was sent to the seven municipalities on the Kneehill line, as well as local and provincial politicians, May 25, requesting support for the meeting.
“I am speaking as a thoroughly frustrated mayor that has to speak to our constituents as to why our water charges are off the wall,” said Beiseker Mayor Bruce Rowe. “Something has to be done. I am thoroughly frustrated with it, and that is why I sent the letter out.”
The Kneehill Water Commission was set up about 10 years ago to find a solution to water shortages and quality northeast of Calgary. It pumps water from the Red Deer River, treats it in Drumheller and pipes it to seven municipalities including Rocky View County, Kneehill County, and the Villages of Acme, Beiseker, Carbon, Irricana and Linden.
Customers pay a large premium for water as they struggle to pay debt incurred by building the pipeline. Water would be cheaper if there were more people on the line sharing the costs. However, attempts to tie in the Balzac mall, and, more recently, the towns of Three Hills and Trochu have failed, said Rowe.
“Rocky View County was denied water from the Commission to supply Balzac,” said Rowe. “If that had been allowed to happen, we would have solved our problem then. Every opportunity we have seems to be slammed in our face.”
Rowe said the only remaining solution is a cash injection from the provincial government.
“I know money is tight right now, but something must be done,” said Rowe. “This has got to be fixed.”
According to Rowe, who is also a member of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, numerous meetings with provincial government ministers have been fruitless.
The latest meeting was in December 2009, and soon after, the provincial government announced it was conducting an investigation on the issue, he said. The results of that investigation have not been revealed.
“The Commission has been asking and telling them (the Alberta Government) that unless we can bring more water through that line to bring the rates down we are in trouble,” said Rowe. “We haven’t paid anything on the principle of the debt.”
The office of Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk, who is in charge of water co-ops across the province, did not respond to inquiries by press time.
Rowe is worried about the future of his town. Other municipalities share his concern.
Irricana Chief Administrative Officer Carol White said the price of water is curtailing development in the town.
“They are cutting us off at the knees as far as development,” said White. “The Province keeps saying, ‘you have to make sure your municipality is sustainable.’ How do you make it sustainable when your water costs that much?”
White says Irricana has been urging its constituents to write their MLA and Hector Goudreau, the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
“It (the solution) has to come from grassroots, maybe the Province will listen if it comes from the people,” she said.
Irricana resident Glenda Borson said that the cost of water is affecting her lifestyle. In fact, she finds herself turning the tap off more and more as prices increase.
“The people in Irricana and Beiseker are having a hard time paying their water bills,” said Borson. “I feel that we are being betrayed by the Province. This is grossly unfair.”
Josh Taylor, Irricana mayor, says his constituents are paying some of the highest rates in the province.
“It is affecting people,” said Taylor. “I would really like the rates to go down, because we are paying too much.”
Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson is in favour of the meeting. He says the Province needs to come up with an integrated water strategy to promote fairness to all jurisdictions.
“It has been an absolute gong show in regards to water management with this government,” said Anderson. “The biggest part of the problem is that the ministers have a listening problem. Until it becomes a crisis, they likely won’t do anything about it.”
Distrust on water issues growing, says studyA University of Alberta study has found public mistrust of government runs deep when it comes to water policy.
A survey of residents living in East-Central Alberta, conducted by PhD student Gaylene Halter, revealed a low level of trust and a high level of skepticism when it comes to programs regarding water issues.
"I think the thing that surprised me the most was the lack of trust," said Halter. "Many people I interviewed felt they had no real voice in shaping water legislation and didn't feel they were part of the consultation process. They definitely don't think they have a say."
She also found that many Albertans have lost interest in public dialogue and democratic debate. She suggested the lack of interest might be because people feel their involvement won't bring about change when it comes to government policy.
"Voter turnout is historically low, my guess would be that people feel they can't affect a change," she said.
A recent scarcity of water in the province, coupled with the high growth rate prompted the study. It focusses on the beliefs and practices of people when it comes to water.
"I felt it was an area that required more looking into," said Halter. "It is our attitude to water that determines how we use it."
The study was conducted between April 2009 and April 2010, and focused on the Battle River Watershed, an area that has struggled with drought since 2000.
Halter interviewed a variety of people in the area, including elected officials, business owners, municipal workers and farmers.
Besides the lack of trust in public consultation processes, the research revealed other concerns about water policies including cost, lack of knowledge, and preservation of the environment.
"My study showed that the public perception is that the current consultation process is more of a show-and-tell rather than having residents develop water regulation," said Halter. "Without direct involvement form the community, people will be reluctant to accept and follow water resource management plans."
Halter forwarded several recommendations to the Alberta Institute for Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment, which was established in 2008 to deal with increasing pressure on the province's natural resource.