Municipalities now footing the bill for pumping

  • Apr. 20, 2011 8:00 a.m.

CHARLES TWEED/Ponoka News

Since the late 1970s the province has been pumping — and paying — for the Gull Lake stabilization program, not anymore.

The program, which pumps water from the Blindman River to Gull Lake, has ensured water levels in the lake haven’t receded in the past 30 years.

Records from 1924 to 1970 show a drop in the lake of 118 inches or 3 metres.

The province now expects municipalities with shoreline on the lake to foot the bill. Essentially if there is going to be pumping into Gull Lake this year — and in the future — it will be up to Ponoka County, Lacombe County, Parkland Beach, and the village of Gull Lake to come up with the $50 -$150 thousand annually it costs to pump.

The province did sign an agreement with Lacombe County and the Village of Gull Lake in the late 70’s that stated the two municipalities would have to pay for the power. The provincial government has paid the bill up until this point but with municipalities receiving MSI money, the feeling is the local governing bodies should pay the bill now.

At its April 12 meeting Ponoka County heard from Norval Horner and the Gull Lake Water Quality Management Society on the benefits of pumping.

Horner referred to an independent study performed by Hydrogeological Consultants Ltd. (HCL) in 2010 that analyzed the lake over the last eight years.

The study concluded that over the last eight years 46.5 million cubic metres of water has been pumped into the lake and over 90 per cent of that water is still in the lake. The more alarming figure is that had pumping stopped eight years ago the lake would be 24 inches lower than where it is today.

Horner believes the benefits to the lake from pumping far outweigh the costs associated with the pump.

“Every time a lot is sold people want to know, ‘is the lake still in decline?’ Right now we are able to say there is a stabilization system in place and the lake is a foot higher than it was 30 years ago,” said Horner. “I think if the pumping system were shut down it wouldn’t take long for that old reputation to emerge…this lake is already suffering from its previous decline and I think it would be pretty easy to affect property values if people saw it starting again.”

Ponoka County Coun. Paul McLauchlin has taken the lead on the issue and emphasized the province has no intention of paying for the power or conducting another study on the effects of pumping. The government is willing to pay staff costs but McLauchlin sees another issue.

“Generation costs are going up and power is getting more expensive…there is a need to pursue any ways of looking at energy efficiency and alternative energy,” said McLauchlin.

There is also a sense that the rate currently being paid to Enmax for the pump can be reduced but the main issue is still trading power for water that will be used recreationally.

There is also a phase two to the study that needs to be conducted but everyone was in agreement that until a meteorological station was established and better data could be collected, it wasn’t the best place to spend their money.

“If you want a return on investment any money you spend should be at looking at more efficient ways to run those pumps. There is an opportunity to spend on the front end now to get that money back,” said McLauchlin.

Gull Lake Village has offered $5,000 and there is no indication where Parkland Beach stands on the matter.

Lacombe County plans to debate the merits of pumping at its next meeting. There are worries Lacombe County is hesitant to enter into negotiations with the province due to its stake in Buffalo Lake.

The reason being that Buffalo Lake also receives pumping and any costs associated with that pumping could be as much as 10 times that of Gull Lake.

Horner’s recommendation was to reach a long-term cost sharing agreement between the municipalities to pay for the power costs.

Council did see the benefits of pumping and passed a motion to enter into negotiations with Alberta Environment on the costs of the pumping.

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