Water woes may halt new residential development
Okotoks: Town nearing limit on existing license
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Tuesday, Mar 12, 2013 05:18 pm
New residential development in Okotoks could be in jeopardy unless additional water sources can be found within the next two to three years.
The Town is approaching the end of its existing water supply and may no longer be able to approve the subdivision of new residential lots beyond what it has already been committed.
It’s a critical point and Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said the Town is continuing to work to find more water and new ways to use what it has.
“We’re getting close, we know we’ve been close, but administration has come up with a creative way to create more water capacity,” said Robertson.
The Town has enough water for existing residents and upgrades planned for the water treatment plant will give Okotoks enough water to cover all residential lots approved for new homes. However, the Town may soon find itself in the position where it will not be able to approve any new subdivisions until it can find more water.
Details of a review of Okotoks’ water supply presented to town council on Monday show the Town is critically close to its limit.
Okotoks as a water license capacity of 670 million imperial gallons per year. The Town has estimated it would need 685.4 million gallons of water for both the current population of just over 26,000 people and 1,017 residential lots have been approved for new homes.
With its existing water usage the Town would have been left with a substantial water deficit — a deficit of 15.4 million gallons or enough to 943 people for a year.
However, upgrades to the water treatment plant will cover the deficit and give Okotoks some wiggle room.
Okotoks municipal engineer Marley Oness said the Town isn’t in imminent danger of exceeding its water license.
The Town’s current lot inventory represents a two to three-year supply of land for new home construction and it won’t have any impact on water use until houses are built and occupied.
“The inventory won’t be developed in one year,” said Oness.
He said there are a number of upgrades that can be done at the water treatment plant to recycle water to increase supply by five per cent, or 33.5 million gallons.
The $540,600 first phase of upgrades is included in the Town’s 2013 capital budget.
A proposed second phase will allow the Town to recover an additional five per cent if its water, but it comes with a much higher price tag. The project’s $2.5 million cost would be covered by a new levy paid by developers at a rate of $18,000 per acre-foot of water.
Oness said this price is higher than the current market value for water licenses. As a result, developers chose to hold off on the second phase of water plant upgrades during a recent meeting with Town officials.
Oness said the Town will proceed with a feasibility study and design work for the second phase to be prepared when it has the green light to proceed with the project.
Moez Moledina, general manager of Tristar Communities, said the situation is worrisome. The company is the developer of the Cimarron community, which is nearing completion. However, subdivision approval is still needed for part of the Cimarron Country Estates area and the company may be forced to wait if the Town is forced to put a moratorium on new subdivisions.
“We’re obviously very concerned about that,” said Moledina.
Moledina agreed with waiting for the second phase of upgrades to the water treatment plant. He said the Town still has time to find new water sources with two to three years of lot inventory for new homes and it’s a costly proposal.
“It’s a lot more expensive than purchasing water licenses,” he said.
Claudio Palumbo, senior advisor with Bordeaux Developments, said the possibility development could come to a halt is part of the business.
“It’s always the risk,” he said. “What if we don’t find a license? Or, what if the Town isn’t successful in securing more water to facilitate their future growth? Is it a concern? Of course it’s a concern, but we think there are other options.”
Bordeaux Developments is the developer of the Ranchers Rise community and it has a number of approved lots in various stages of construction. It also plans to develop a new community to the southeast of the Okotoks Airport, but it is not subdivided. The company is also searching for water licenses it can purchase and then transfer to the Town to use for its development.