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Water debate exposes urban/rural divide

Posted on February 9, 2016 by 40 Mile Commentator

By Tim Kalinowski
Water allocation was on the agenda at last week’s Cypress County council meeting. The ensuing discussions exposed fault lines between rural concerns and urban development which are sure to be revisited several times in the months to come as the water picture becomes clearer for Cypress County. The County is in the process of finalizing several agreements for water rights transfers, and does have some extra allotment available at the moment even with the recent completion of the regional water line.
With major developments set to go ahead in Irvine, and Dunmore seeking to expand, the fear for some is rural water co-ops will get the short end of the stick when the County’s scarce water resources are divvied up.
Coun. Dan Hamilton was the main advocate for prioritizing hamlet development for water rights allocations. Pointing to the fact that developer Peter Wilde, owner of Wilde Possibilities Ltd., had 25 new houses shovel-ready for Dunmore, but was still awaiting the go ahead due to ongoing debates within council about water allocation.
“He (Wilde) wants to start two more subdivisions over here in Dunmore. There will be 25 houses in each one. He wants to put in the roads and everything and get everything developed and do it all in one shot. But he doesn’t necessarily want to build the 50 houses this year, rather over two years. He wants to be okayed for it… With these water rights (allocations) coming out maybe we can look into that,” said Hamilton.
Coun. Garry Lentz said any discussions of allocations should wait until the end of February when Cypress Rural Water Co-op and the East Cypress Water Co-op were scheduled to present their plans to council. Cypress Rural Water Co-op currently has 250 members waiting for water.
“In December council agreed to hold up the engineering on the Veinerville pumphouse because the Cypress Rural Water Co-op is in the process right now of doing the design on the rural system. They have until the end of February to complete that. So shortly after that the engineers will be able to tell us what the water co-ops needs are through the Veinerville and Dunmore pumphouses,” Lentz reminded council.
Hamilton did not feel council should be holding up a potentially lucrative development for that reason when extra water was already available for new houses in Dunmore now.
“I look at it like this: We can okay 25 houses (in Dunmore) this year with the potential of 25 houses next year so the gentlemen can start his development. Let’s not hold up the development anymore. Our strategic plan says encourage development and we have a developer here who is ready to go. Garry says there might be other guys (in the water co-ops) ready to go, but they haven’t come to the table yet.”
Lentz was quick to retort.
“Maybe not at your table but they have sat at mine,” said Lentz. “Let’s not get in a big hurry because we have got to the end of February for the water co-ops to do their design plans. We have to kind of take these things in order too; instead of jumping at every (hamlet) developer. We need to keep in mind there is other projects on the go as well.”
Coun. Earnest Mudie, while in favour of development, was not keen to charge ahead and give approvals for any additional water allocations in Dunmore just yet.
“I would like to see us figure out our drainage plan (for Dunmore), and where we are going with the costs on that before we get too excited about development. Not that I am opposed to it, but I think the drainage plan comes before,” said Mudie.
Couns. Richard Oster and Dan Hamilton replied Wilde Possibilities Ltd. had its own drainage plan for its housing development and shouldn’t have to wait for council to decide on the drainage plan for the rest of the community as well, which could take several more months to complete.
“Why not give the developer the go ahead to do the 25? With all due respect on the water co-op side, I think our priority should be development (in the hamlets)… I think to hold back on that development would screw up our priorities,” Oster said.
Mudie was not buying the argument.
“It all ties together,” insisted Mudie. “You just can’t build houses on top of the hill and say its your responsibility (to the County). We need to have a fair plan which encourages all the future development. It shouldn’t be for the County to pick up all the slack. You build a little slough and call it good, but when it gets to the end and all hell breaks loose the County has got to pull out $10 million to get that water out of here… We need to have a firm drainage plan.”
Mudie went on to suggest that all the information on drainage, what water allocations the co-ops will need, and what the developers will need in Dunmore, and other locations, should all be put together in one package for a council meeting in March. He also asked for more clarity from staff on specific facts and figures for current water availability.
Reeve Darcy Geigle concurred with Mudie and put an end to the discussion. He directed staff to bring back better figures on current water availability and possible future allocation schemes for another meeting.

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