With the town of Okotoks growing and the looming threat of a drought, the town is making sure it doesn't leave us without water.
At Mayor Thorn's Second Annual Town Update on January 18th, Councillors Brent Robinson and Rachel Swendseid spoke about how the town plans to grow without it negatively affecting our water supply.
From 1998 to 2012, the Town of Okotoks had a population cap of 30,000 people, due to the limitations of the Sheep River and the Bow River.
The population cap was removed in 2012, because there was significant growth happening around the town, causing stress on town services and infrastructure.
By removing the cap, it allowed Okotoks to better manage growth, while improving infrastructure and job creation.
"So, even though the population cap was removed in 2012, as you've heard, Okotoks has been one of the slowest growing communities within the region," explained Councillor Swendseid at the Town Update. "And I know it doesn't feel like that when we see all the new development occurring, but as of '22, our population was nearly 32,000. And this equates to 1.34 per cent year over year growth rate. Which is a really, really low growth rate."
But people have still expressed concern to the town about how the town growing may affect us negatively.
Luckily, the town has a plan.
"This is where the Municipal Development Plan comes in. The MDP. This MDP is a 30–40-year plan and it describes what Okotoks could look like in 60 years and it was created for a community visioning process," explained Swendseid. "And the reason that I'm bringing up the MDP, is that Yes, we are growing, but we are growing thoughtfully."
The MDP states that all new developments must support the goals and principles of the MDP.
Some of those principles include that neighborhoods must integrate parks, naturalized areas. and community gathering spaces.
"And with regards to water, the MDP states that we need to require that new development projects apply best management practices in stormwater management, require low-water landscaping, drought tolerant landscaping, and the list goes on. It's a very detailed document," Swendseid says.
The MDP will help the town grow thoughtfully.
"So, any development that you see today that's out in our community, when you see the grading, utilities going in, the roads being built, all that, that has been approved through our Municipal Development Plan," explains Councillor Robinson.
"Before any new development can be approved in Okotoks, the developers must comply with our Water Allocation Policy," Robinson says. "It's one of a kind within Alberta, and the policy essentially requires developers to acquire or pay the town for the use of a water license," Robinson explains. "So, in other words, the Water Allocation Policy is in place to ensure there is sufficient water licence capacity available prior to approving a new land use for any new development. And that ensures the Town receives a reimbursement for any of the costs it incurred in acquiring those licences."
The Water Allocation Policy ensures that the town doesn't exceed how much water we can draw from the river.
"Water is the most precious resource we have here in Southern Alberta, and it's not an option anymore not to use it wisely. Especially as we head into a drought this spring and summer," Swendseid
For more information on Water Allocation, check out the Town's website.