The communities of Blackfalds, Lacombe and Lacombe County are still seeking solutions to the ever growing challenges with the long-ago proposed regional wastewater line.
Due to community growth, the wastewater systems in these communities are near capacity and are beginning to cause problems regarding further development. Mayor Steve Christie was not pleased when the new 2015 Alberta budget was released with no mention of funding available for the program.
“In the original make-up of this larger project in Central Alberta, we were to already be online years ago. We’ve done upgrades for our existing system based on that regional system design. We’ve been putting band-aids on until this point. I’m not overly optimistic after seeing that budget, either,” Christie said.
“We were cut last budget with the Water for Life program and wastewater programs. Once again, with this budget, we see cuts, and that concerns me. My own thoughts are that if we can’t turn on our taps, and we can’t flush our toilets, then we don’t need schools or roads because people won’t be coming here. That is a very, very integral part of our infrastructure. The provincial government talked about infrastructure as they announced the budget. They are focused on built infrastructure but aren’t acknowledging underground infrastructure that supports the buildings.”
Without the provincial government coming through with their promise of a 90/10 split for funding, where the province supplies 90% of the funding, the program can’t get online. This has caused stress within Lacombe, Lacombe County and Blackfalds because there have been high amounts of development for the last few years and the current wastewater line cannot support the growth.
In 2014, the Town of Blackfalds experienced the single largest year of growth since the town’s inception. Lacombe is working to bring in new residential areas and this development will be of concern until the regional water line has been installed.
Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol was also unimpressed with the lack of follow-through on behalf of the Alberta government.
“Lacombe, Lacombe County and Blackfalds are going to have to sit down and form a strategy. The need hasn’t changed, the environmental benefits of a regional line haven’t changed, the financial benefits haven’t changed. What has changed is the province’s ability to come in and be a full partner on this like they should be, and like we’ve been planning for the last 10 years,” she said.
“We have to re-group and come up with a strategy because the problem is still there and we have to solve it. The people of Blackfalds, Lacombe and Lacombe County have expectations that our wastewater is going to be handled properly. I think everyone who relies on the Red Deer River expects the river to be protected. We really have to figure out what we’re going to do.”
The communities of Lacombe, Lacombe County and Blackfalds have all spent municipal funds to keep the current wastewater lines functioning, but have already spent more money than was laid out in the original plan.
“We’re talking about an upgrade coming up that could be anywhere between $3 million and $5 million. Those aren’t small upgrades. If we have to go to that extent in temporary upgrades and then be on a regional system in the next decade, it probably won’t happen. We’re at a crucial part in this project, especially in Blackfalds. We meet the criteria for Water For Life funding, but if we’re spending $5 million, it’s over that 10 per cent. For us to put that much money into temporary upgrades is, no pun intended, flushing money down the drain,” said Christie.
He added, “It’s disheartening and it’s tough to take. We’ve been working hard on this, and it’s very important to growth in our region. We were hoping for more positive news in the budget.”