After moratorium on water licenses, two businesses in southern Alberta find water needs to be a business strategy

Southern Alberta

Finding water needs to be a business strategy in southern Alberta. In 2006, the province imposed a moratorium on water licenses for the South Saskatchewan River Basin because of low water levels. This means businesses need to find someone with a water license willing to make a deal.

Though, transfers between license holders and companies are only possible if holders gives water already held. Potential deals are also monitored by the Alberta government, who can holdback 10 per cent of the transfer for conservation purposes.

Cross Iron MillsThe popular Cross Iron Mills in Calgary was at the risk of not being constructed due to the difficulty to obtain water.

Courtesy of Dave Bloggs/Flickr. Under Creative Common License
Case Study #1: Cross Iron Mills

Balzac, Alta.

Business Problem: No water for Cross Iron Mills mall.

The mall project almost stopped in 2007 due to difficulty in finding water. After the 2006 moratorium, Rocky View MD – in partnership with developers – searched for other options. When Drumheller denied their request to treat water taken from the Red Deer River, they turned to the Western Irrigation District (WID) – one of the only 13 irrigation districts within Alberta which all hold water licenses.

When approached by Rocky View MD and mall developers, WID was hesitant, as most of its members were farmers concerned for their water supply.

Erwin Braun, general manager of WID said in a recent 2015 interview, that some members were not too keen on the transfer because of “rural agriculture values.”

“It didn’t matter what the price was, people weren’t willing to give up that asset,” Braun said.

For the transfer to move forward, WID had to first secure approval from its members. After a public presentation, 57% of 328 members voted ‘yes’.

Rocky View MD paid $15-million for repairs on a pipeline approximately 50 km in length, and in return it

received 6,700 cubic metres of water per day.

Despite some members dissent, Braun said, “The market functioned as it’s supposed to, and both sides got big wins from it.”

Currently, the District is not looking into any other permanent transfers, but because WID’s water license permits more water than is being used, it can lease water to nearby municipalities.

Braun believes this is a good way to supply water while still meeting the needs of members.

Castle MountainCastle Mountain Ski Resort depends on all-natural snow-fall was forced to shut down early February 2015 due to warm weather. 

Courtesy of Castle Mountain Ski Resort
Case Study #2:

Castle Mountain Ski Resort, Pincher Creek, Alta.

Business Problem: No Water License to Make Snow

In contrast to Case Study #1, some businesses have not had had as much luck finding a license holder willing to transfer water.

The skiing season was cut short this year on Feb. 16, 2015 for Castle Mountain Ski Resort after not enough snow. The resort depends on natural snowfall to stay open, and an early closure hasn’t happened for nearly 10 years.

Brad Brush, general manager of Castle Mountain, said the closure has had a “huge impact financially” and “economically throughout the province,” including the dismissal of just under 150 seasonal staff.

To combat this in future years, Castle Mountain has applied for a water license to make snow when Mother Nature will not. However, the process has been neither easy, nor successful.

The resort was offered a surface water license by the Alberta government – but this would mean building a reservoir in the high alpines.

“For us, that’s not really a viable option for a couple reasons,” Brush said, “Financially, it certainly isn’t and also environmentally, to go up in the Alpines and dig a huge man-made lake up there just does not make sense.”

After the 2006 water license moratorium imposed in Southern Alberta, procuring water has become an arduous process. Castle Mountain exhausted its options, finding no licenses within the Castle River drainage system.

Despite the struggles, Brush said the resort is still pushing for a license and met with the Alberta Minister of Tourism in February to discuss the issue, “Really it’s about tourism and making Castle viable for tourism in the province so hopefully they can help us in some way.”

Zoë Choy is a journalism student at Mount Royal University who worked on a research project lead by Associate Professor Janice Paskey to design curriculum to educate journalism students about water issues.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Leon Rodriguez

humbnail picture courtesy of Gord McKenna/Flickr. Under Creative Common Licence

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