City looks to province for help with water plan

City council is going after provincial funding to help develop a water conservation plan

City council is going after provincial funding to help develop a water conservation plan which the city needs if it wants to minimize spending on costly future water projects.

Council, at its July 20 meeting, directed city staff to apply to the province’s Infrastructure Planning grant which offers up to $10,000 to help local governments plan, design and manage infrastructure such as sewer and water systems.

Ron Neufeld, the city’s general manager of operations, said that having a water conservation plan is critical to securing money from senior levels of government.

“On an on-going basis both the provincial and federal governments are looking for a formal water conservation strategy as a foundation in support of any infrastructure funding in support of either sewer or water projects,” Neufeld said. “This is something we need to have if we want to go after senior funding.”

The city has several water projects on the horizon.

It’s currently on the hook for $4.15 million of the $22.4 million new drinking water system that is now in phase one of construction. The city intends to pay for that through a combination of water capital and debt from borrowing.

In 2013, city council of the day endorsed a water and sewer budget in its 2013-2017 financial plan that involves borrowing $15 million over a 15-year term. The water projects approved in that budget included the drinking water system, a water booster pump station, water main renewal, a main chlorine facility upgrade, and an expansion of the Beaver Lodge reservoir.

Jennifer Peters, the city’s utilities manager, said those projects will help the city expand its water capacity as the city grows. She added, however, that if the city develops a water conservation plan it could help reduce water demand and the city could put off some of those projects for awhile longer.

“The city’s Water System Strategic Action Plan recommends significant upgrades to increase water system capacity and notes that many of these projects can be deferred if water demand is reduced,” Peters said.

Neufeld confirmed at last week’s council meeting that a water conservation plan would likely have an impact on the city’s peak water consumption periods.

“The intent would be to acknowledge the bottleneck in the system and develop strategies as to how we manage the distribution system and how our customers use water in a way that reduces peak usage and distributes that usage throughout the day,” he said.

But Coun. Charlie Cornfield pointed out that a water conservation plan is more than just a strategy for reducing water consumption, it looks at the big picture.

“It’s to help us manage, plan, and design our infrastructure,” Cornfield said. “It’s not just about the constituents’ use of the water. It looks at distribution throughout our community now and through the future.”