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Balzac appeal denied: What’s the future for the Calgary region?

Towards the end of 2007, the last remaining roadblock on the quest for water was removed for the developers of the mega-entertainment complex near Balzac. The Environmental Appeal Board, after a hearing in Calgary on December 17, 2007, declared Westridge Utilities Inc. to not be "directly affected" and thereby dismissed the utility's appeal of the $15 million deal to transfer water from the Western Irrigation District (WID) to the Municipal District (MD) of Rockyview. The approved water for the MD will ensure the entertainment complex, among other developments, has enough water to begin its operation. This assurance of water now allows the MD to nail down a deal with EPCOR to build and operate the water supply infrastructure for the East Balzac development (Massot 2008).

But will the 2000 acre-feet of water be enough for the development, slated to open March 2009, when it reaches its full size and operational capacity? In fact, the amount of water will only be for 1800 acre-feet after subtracting the 10% conservation holdback for environmental needs. And it will be for 11 developments in the MD of Rockyview. According to the MD's original licence application to obtain water from the Red Deer River, submitted to Alberta Environment over a year ago, the MD expects to require up to 15,000 cubic metres per day (12.16 acre feet per day or 4438.65 acre feet annually) at full buildout of these developments. Thus, the 2000 acre-feet transfer is only an "initial solution", representing less than half of what the MD anticipates the developments will require.

With the Bow River watershed experiencing the fastest growth of southern Alberta's watersheds and being closed to new water licence applications, more of these water allocation transfers are likely. This particular transfer was the third to be approved in the Bow River watershed and the 26th to occur in Alberta; but it attracted the most attention.

The Balzac transfer garnered $15 million for the WID to convert a 50 km irrigation canal to pipeline and reduce leakages. The cost of future transfers may be just as high or higher as demand grows and pressure to find water becomes more acute. With a number of communities in the Calgary region approaching the limit of their water licences over the next few years, water transfers from the largest water licence holders are only going to become more prevalent (CH2M Hill 2007).

To safeguard public interest, strong environmental and human need protections will have to be in place for future use of the burgeoning water market in southern Alberta.

Sources:

Beauchamp, Paula. December 21, 2007. Last-ditch appeal against megamall dismissed. Calgary Herald.

CH2M Hill. 2007. Planning and Technical Study on Water and Wastewater Servicing in the Calgary Region: Summary Report - Revision1.

Massot, Enrique. January 22, 2008. EPCOR to finance infrastructure under 3P formula: MD selects company to build east waterline. Rocky View Weekly.

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