The major water line break in Calgary and concerns of drought in the coming months are leading to many questions about water availability in the Calgary Metropolitan Region (CMR). 

Some of those questions were addressed in a study by the School of Public Policy released last week. 

The study looked at water licenses in the CMR and whether availability can keep up with population growth in Calgary and neighbouring communities like Airdrie, Cochrane, and Okotoks. 

“There's been a lot of focus on water and the big takeaway at the end of the day is that we've got a finite resource and how we distribute that water and build our city is going to be driven by that water availability,” said David Baret, with the University of Calgary. He helped author the report along with Robert Falconer from the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

The report showed that within the CMR, most water licenses are held by the City of Calgary, with small volumes allocated to surrounding towns including Okotoks.

School of Public Policy

According to Baret, access to water and the inability to easily transfer water between watersheds and basins has resulted in Okotoks restricting additional housing to align with water availability and capacity. Okotoks has also seen the lowest population growth rate of all communities in the CMR and some of the highest housing prices. 

“The big piece for communities that aren't fed by the city of Calgary is that they're going to spend more and more time chasing after those water licenses,” he said. “It's really going to come down to 'can cities continue to grow based on what water they have access to or they're allowed to divert and use?'” 

Okotoks' water supply comes from 13 groundwater wells which draw from surface water such as rivers, rain, and runoff. 

Currently, the Town of Okotoks said it has systems in place to manage the water supply for essential use and to support current development. 

Water in the Sheep River is regulated by licenses from the Province of Alberta and since 2010, the Town has purchased water licenses to increase the overall water license portfolio from 2.8 million cubic meters to over four million cubic meters. 

Infrastructure was also a big concern addressed as the study found that with estimated water losses ranging from 10 – 52 per cent, mainly due to aging infrastructure, Calgary and surrounding communities face a trade-off between further population growth and efficient water transportation and use. 

“We’ve got to really think also about how cities are growing,” said Baret. “As we continue to build outwards, we need new infrastructure. Each new kilometre of infrastructure has a certain amount of loss to it. So, we're building expensive infrastructure that we might not be able to maintain.” 

So, what’s the solution to these concerns? Baret said that when it comes to infrastructure, the solution should be to look inward. 

“Trying to figure out how can we build where there's already infrastructure to try to minimize and make it a more sustainable, maintenance (and) be able to actually maintain those to the level that we need to, so we don't see these catastrophic failures as well.” 

Meanwhile, at the regional level, the report said that the province may dedicate subsidies or efficiency bonuses to communities for improving water-related infrastructure. That could also lead to discussions on improving water management, licensing, and allocation. 


Together We Can Make A Difference Radiothon for the Sheep River Health Trust.