“The biggest advantage is of course for the livestock sector because we have an unbelievable amount of pasture in the Special Areas,” says Hayden. “It’ll also open up some recreational opportunities.
Although they are studying the diversion of raw water, there is potential for treating the water for domestic purposes.
“Those possibilities that have never existed in that area may now be a possibility, it’s really just wonderful all the way around,” says Hayden, adding they must complete the assessment before any other steps are taken.
Low precipitation and a lack of secure water supply have been impediments to economic diversification and stability in the region. The areas, under direction of Alberta Municipal Affairs, were established by the province in 1938 due to the extreme hardship of years of drought in the 1930s.
The three-person Special Areas Board manages more than 1 million hectares of public land and provides municipal services, such as construction and maintenance of local roads and parks, and emergency and protective services, to the region.
“This is the culmination of a long road.”
There are a couple of proposed routes, says Hayden, but that’s a part of the assessment.
“That’s part of the environmental impact assessment, you want to disturb the least amount of land possible and be sensitive to any development in the area. Also to any possibly historic locations.”
Although the idea has been in the government’s mind since the 1930’s, it doesn’t mean that the project is not feasible.
It’s taken this much time because the idea proposes to cover a vast area of land.
“We’re talking about a very large project financially. We know water is a finite resources, and we want to make the best possible use of the water supply we’ve got. We are releasing so much water into Saskatchewan so an off stream storage like this allows us to capture water from spring run off. It’ll drought proof a large area of our province – it’s all just so positive,” says Hayden.
Before last year, Alberta faced six years of drought and Hayden believes that made the point to the government how important it is to drought proof that area.
“They were literally without water. We had a resource that could make us money as a province but we didn’t have the water.”
The water would be taken upstream from Drumheller, but would not be noticeable. There are a couple of potential locations for drawing water in the County of Stettler.
Potential benefits of the project would include increased reliability of water supply for household and domestic use; stock watering; municipal and industrial use; waterfowl and wildlife conservation and enhancement; recreation, and a limited amount of irrigation.
If constructed, the Special Areas Water Supply Project would be part of the provincially owned water management infrastructure and would be owned and operated by Alberta Environment.
The projected cost for Phase 1 of the environmental impact assessment is estimated at $1 million.