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Groundwater mapping tool gives better understanding of needed resource

    A new atlas developed as a result of collaboration between Alberta Environment and Water and the Alberta Geological Survey will give a better understanding of the groundwater resources between Edmonton and Calgary.
    The study is to ensure that the provincial government can implement policies and actions to manage groundwater in a sustainable manner.
    “The goal is to quantify how much groundwater is in an area such as Drumheller,” said Steve Wallace, a groundwater policy specialist. “We also want to predict whether groundwater use at the current rate is sustainable and whether use can increase.”
    The atlas covers groundwater features in the region and includes the results of airborne geophysical surveys in the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, which includes Drumheller.
    An electromagnetic pulse is emitted at the ground from a research plane. Depending on the properties of the ground, the pulse will be absorbed or reflected. A receiver in tow by the plane collects the reflected energy.
    Based on the response that the receiver gets, it is possible to determine the type of rocks, the layer sequence of the rocks, and the conductivity of the rocks. Less resistant rocks, such as shale or clays, generally do not hold water. High conductivity rocks, such as sandstone, hold more water.
    Afterwards, the data collected is combined with existing information, such as drilling reports, to give clearer insight about the distribution of groundwater.
    Another aspect of the project was investigating the chemical composition of groundwater in various areas through well sampling.
    “The natural quality of the water has been characterized,” said Wallace. “It would help users understand what kind of water quality they have and help determine what the water could be used for.”
    The results of the study show that groundwater resources in the Drumheller area are widespread and of good quality. The sensitivity of groundwater in the Drumheller area to land use, such as a spill, is quite low due to the composition of the rock layers.
    The next step is to quantify the water held in aquifers in the study area, including the area around Drumheller.
    “Preliminary investigations indicate there are no warning flags in the area,” said Wallace. “The data would help us nail down what sustainable groundwater use would be in the Drumheller area.”
    The atlas is available online at www.alberta.ca/NewsFrame.


East Coulee, Lehigh residents critical of water line project

    Residents of East Coulee and Lehigh met with members of  Town Council and administration on November 9 to discuss plans to bring municipal water to their neighbourhoods.
    Before the meeting began, residents had the opportunity to speak one on one with the town’s delegation and view posters outlining the water lines. At 6:30 p.m. the town gave a presentation outlining the two independent water improvement projects.
    The first project is the construction of a water transmission line from Cambria to the western edge of East Coulee. The total cost of the project is $4.3 million, with 90 per cent of the funding for the project coming from the provincial government through the Water for Life grant. The remaining 10 per cent of the cost would be paid for by the town, specifically by water utilities.
    The second project would bring the water lines into East Coulee and Lehigh. The cost for the second project is estimated to be $3.2 million dollars. Residents of the two communities would be responsible for the whole amount through a water improvement tax.
    The total payment per connection is estimated at $15,614.34, or $90.04 per month for 20 years. Grants would be available to seniors to help pay for the improvements.
    The water distribution lines would run under the streets, to the edge of each property line. Fire hydrants would be distributed throughout both neighbourhoods.
    The benefits, as stated in the presentation, would be that each neighbourhood would have a secure, high quality water source, fire protection, increased growth, and reduced insurance payments.
    Afterwards, residents were given an opportunity to ask questions of the delegation.
    Criticisms of the proposal were that insurance payments would not decrease by much and residents would begin paying water utilities on top of the monthly improvement tax.
    In addition to the water improvement tax, residents would be responsible for  bringing the water lines from the edge of their property into their homes. Homeowners would need to hire contractors to do the work. The town would give only two years for each owner to hook up to the water distribution lines.
    There were concerns raised regarding the quality of Drumheller water as well. During the meeting of the Committee of the Whole on Monday, November 14, council members and administration wished to alleviate any fears about water quality. The water that East Coulee and Lehigh residents would receive would travel through new pipes and the issues that have occurred with Drumheller are no longer a concern. The quality of municipal water in Drumheller exceeds provincial standards.
    Some residents were concerned the project was going through regardless of their desires. However, Mayor Terry Yemen assured residents the plan would only happen with the consent of those affected.
    The general consensus amongst the communities is they would be glad to have municipal water, but the cost is too high. The mood from the meeting was that residents were not in favour of the proposal.
    “I’ve received a number of emails from people at the meeting who didn’t speak out saying they would like the water,” said Mayor Terry Yemen. “But they asked if there was any way to lower the cost.”
    “We have been lobbying the provincial government to extend the transmission line to the east end of East Coulee, that would help lower the cost,” continued Mayor Yemen. “So far we’ve been unsuccessful, but we need the support of East Coulee and Lehigh to lobby the government too.”
    The Town of Drumheller will soon send out letters to all residents asking for further information from residents, for example if they would want water and at what cost.
    Along with the survey, the residents potentially affected would receive a detailed summary of the pertinent information. The goal being to help residents answer all of their questions and concerns.
    “The information would help council make an informed decision,” said Mayor Yemen.
    Regardless of the response by residents, the water transmission line between Cambria and East Coulee will still go ahead. Work should proceed through the spring and summer of 2012.

Nacmine residents concerned about proposed gas well

    A possible development by Bearspaw Petroleum to drill three wells near McMullen Island has residents of Nacmine concerned.
     A number of property owners near the development have received packages on a plan to drill three wells from an existing site metres away from the parking area of McMullen Island and along the walking path from Drumheller to Midland Provincial Park.
    According to the information package, “Bearspaw proposes to drill and complete three directional natural gas wells. Based on successful results of the first well, Bearspaw would then evaluate and decide to drill up to an additional two sweet gas wells. Once drilling is complete, a service rig will be moved onto the location to complete and test the wells.”
    According to a letter from Dan McFadyen, chairman of the Energy Resource Conservation Board (ERCB),  included in the information package, the company is in the proposing stages and is planning to make an application to the ERCB for an energy development.
    The proposed site is about 80 metres from the Red Deer River. Across the river are residential homes in Nacmine. Resident Jim Decore has concerns about the proposed development.
    “All citizens of Drumheller should be concerned because this is a well that will be less than 100 metres from the  Red Deer River which is everyone’s drinking water. If there is ever some sort of an accident, our river could be contaminated,” said Decore. “They say it is a slim possibility, but I still don’t like the idea of a slim possibility.”
    Another concern is that he characterizes the area of drilling as a place for wildlife, and trees will have to be removed in order to drill.
    “My next door neighbour is a bird counter, and has counted 56 different varieties of birds in the area,” said Decore. “Right now there are 500 geese on the river, there are deer running in there, pheasants, foxes, coyotes and all other kinds of wildlife they will disrupt.”
    He adds the walking trail is well used by residents and visitors alike.
    “It is used steadily by people in the summer time and the winter time because they cross country ski and snowshoe on there, and bike. Living across the river, you hear the voices steady on that trail,” he said.
    Decore said the wells are directional. One leads across Highway 838 into Midland Provincial Park. The other two wells terminate on the east side  and the west side of Nacmine. He said in the area the well bores would be, beneath are a number of mine shafts, and the community is concerned with the possibility of fracking. Even if the well is 1,500 metres below the surface, an old mineshaft can make it a lot closer.
    He said there is often methane in old mine shafts and  a number of vents throughout the hills. He wonders if it is possible that fracking could push the gases up the old mine shafts.
    Another one of his concerns is the noise. He said the drilling site is next to a hill, and the noise of drilling and completing the wells will resonate through the Drumheller community. He remembers when the site was originally developed in the 1970’s.
    “When that well came in, when they flared it, every time they lit that thing it boomed so loud the windows rattled, the dishes rattled in the house and woke our baby up. This went on day and night for three weeks,” said Decore. “They talk about how the ways of flaring have changed over the years, which they probably have with advanced technology but it is still going to be flaring, which is a roaring fire every time they check it out.”
    In his estimation an easy solution is to have the company drill from above the valley.
    “In this day and age of directional drilling they open the wells outside the valley and directional drill right into their area, they don’t need to put well within 100 metres of residences," said Decore.
    He said a number of his neighbours in Nacmine are concerned about the development, especially the safety aspects. He hopes they present a strong opposition to the project to the ERCB.
    “The more work we do prior to them (Bearspaw) applying, I am hoping the more objections the board will see and they will not approve it."
    Bob Curran, communications for the ERCB said currently there is no application to the ERCB and right now the company is fulfilling requirements to apply.
    “They are required to give notification out to a certain radius from the proposed location and also required to consult within the certain proposed location,” said Curran. “That work has to be done before they submit the application.”
    “When they submit their application, they have to let us know if there are standing objections.”
    The next step of the process is to apply to the ERCB, and this is a time when residents can file objections to the board.
    “If people feel they are going to be directly or adversely affected by the development, they can object to it with the ERCB, and that is their best course of action,” said Curran.
    He said there is no definite estimation for how long it takes an application to be assessed. It depends on the nature of the project and objections.
    Mayor Terry Yemen said according to the Municipal Government Act, a company does not need a development permit from a local municipality to develop resources. He said according to the town’s development plan, it discourages any drilling in the valley.
    Calls made to Bearspaw resources were not returned at the time of publication.


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