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Town, County seek grant to establish water commission

The Town and County of Barrhead are pursuing a $125,000 grant through the Regional Collaboration Program to help form a water services commission.

The Town and County of Barrhead are pursuing a $125,000 grant through the Regional Collaboration Program to help form a water services commission.

The Town and the County would comprise the Barrhead Water Services Commission, which would be responsible for the ongoing upgrades to the water treatment plant to bring it into compliance with government regulations. The objective of the Regional Collaboration Program is to improve the viability of long-term sustainability of municipalities through strategic activities related to regional collaboration and capacity building by 2020-21. The grant would assist in the development of the commission and its formative elements to provide potable water to the communities.

“This is a hurry-and-wait scenario,” said Mayor Brian Schulz. “We are trying to use as many grants as possible, so that way we don’t have to pay back that money. This is a grant that will help us set up the commission. The paperwork has been sent to the province, and the reason it’s taking so long is the fact the minister has to OK it all. He has been busy, and there has been a backload, but there’s no hurry on our part or that of the County.”

This entire process of bringing Barrhead’s municipal drinking water into compliance with the government’s requirements has drawn together the committee members, comprised of Town and County councillors, because they all realize that water is something that everyone needs, Schulz said.

“We want to ensure we are producing good, clean and affordable drinking water and that we establish a commission that will last for many years,” he said. “The commission would be set up so that there is equal representation, and that it has the authority to make the decision to maintain good quality drinking water.”

County Manager Mark Oberg added the grant would help a newly formed commission to set up policies and bylaws, or what he called the “operational guts” of the group. The Town and County were successful in securing the Alberta Municipal Water/Wastewater Partnership grant in the amount of $12.4 million to cover the majority of the upgrades at the treatment plant. The Regional Collaboration grant would be more appropriate for the expense of running the commission, he said.

“The money from first grant comes in on a continuous basis, as it is a multi-year project,” Oberg said.

It was in February 2009 that the Town and County passed bylaws to become members of the water commission, and approached the Department of Municipal Affairs in August of that year to form the commission.

They have been waiting for final confirmation ever since, Oberg said.

Oberg said there are many advantages to the Town and County forming this commission together, the most significant being the fact the percentage of the expenses covered by the government is greater due to the collaborative effort.

Had the County tackled this project on its own, the government would have covered 90 per cent of the costs, leaving the County responsible for 10 per cent. However, had the Town gone the route on its own, the percentage covered by the government would have been much, much less, Oberg said. As it stands now, the government will cover 71 per cent of the overall costs, leaving the Town and County responsible for the remaining 29 per cent.

“It’s just better for everyone to do it this way,” he said.

The government has changed the requirements and codes in relation to water, changes that stem from the death of residents of Walkerton, Ont., who died after drinking water infected with E. coli. The new codes are forcing municipalities across the entire country to upgrade their facilities.

Two years ago, a $3.1-million project was completed to install a regional water transmission line from Barrhead to Neerlandia, because the hamlet’s water supply was deemed not drinkable, Schulz said. The government is establishing tighter and tighter controls over water regulations.

The commission would oversee a $12-million upgrade to the water plant that would see the installation of a micro-filtration system. That system is one of the best and most complete systems of taking raw water and making it suitable to meet and even surpass all government requirements, Schulz added.

“Once that system is set up and operational, we’ll be good for 20 to 30 years,” he said. “The water is safe now, I want to make that clear. The government has given us until 2013 to meet their standards, and we’ll easily meet that deadline. We have very qualified people at our water plant, so much so that other communities call our guys and ask for their advice.”