CHARLES TWEED/Black Press
The provincial government will turn off the taps from the Blindman River into Gull Lake after this summer.
The four affected municipalities met to discuss the transition between the stabilization plan being paid for by the province to one that is funded by the municipalities.
“It was a good meeting and it was all about feeling out where the province would like to go with it,” said Ponoka County Coun. Paul McLauchlin. “It was more of a principal thing, trying to figure out where our ceiling is and look at how the province might bridge the difference.”
On June 16, Ponoka County, Lacombe County, the Summer Village of Gull Lake and Parkland Beach met with government officials to discuss the Gull Lake stabilization plan. With the negotiating process just beginning, McLauchlin was careful not to tip his hand too much.
“I think for the most part we’re looking at whether they will provide matching or added funds,” he said. “We’re also looking at the term to create some certainty for both parties and looking at an agreement that is referenced in a 10-year framework.”
The two sides also discussed potential upgrades to pumps to create more efficiency.
“At the end of the day we want a better power rate and once we come to a dollar figure we can start negotiating with different service providers to see what they can give us for a rate,” said McLauchlin
The standby power to the pumps is $3,000 a month, meaning the bill is $36,000 a year before the pumps get switched on, something McLauchlin said, “We need to fix.”
The pumps have been running since the late 1970s after records from the lake from 1924 to 1970 showed a decline in water levels of about three metres.
Another issue that has to be worked out is between the municipalities themselves, determining how much each would pay toward the final number. A formula based on how much lake frontage each municipality contains has been suggested as a way of determining how much each should pay.
“At the end of the day there are some fiscal realities and the villages just don’t have the equity to support it so we’ve tried to create a proportional funding model and nobody has taken that back to their councils for final approvals but the two larger councils will be taking over 70 to 80 per cent of the price at the end of the day,” said McLauchlin.
This year the pumps were switched on moving water from the Blindman River to Gull Lake at the end of April.
There has been mixed reaction to the stabilization plan that trades energy for water being used recreationally.
“Generally speaking, the response has been mixed. We are getting boisterous support from the people around the lake and they are obviously in favor of it and we are hearing a bit of grumbling on how the province has offloaded this to us. The typical ratepayer isn’t happy but they are willing to find some middle ground,” said McLaughlin who had some grumbling of his own. “I know the fact the parks isn’t coming to the table is a fairly negative interpretation from any of the elected officials, knowing that the real benefit comes from that being one of the busiest campgrounds in the province.”
Hydrogeological Consultants Ltd. performed a study in 2010 that concluded the lake would be 24 inches lower than levels today if the pumps would have been shut off eight years ago.
The large shallow lake is fighting a battle against evaporation and McLauchlin feels pumping has been successful.
“There is some pumping banking that does go on based on the numbers I have seen. Although you do get evaporation there is speculation that 60 per cent of what you pump will remain in there for the next fiscal year and maybe that number is plus or minus 20 per cent,” he said.
McLauchlin also wanted to recognize the contributions the government has made throughout the past 40 years and the fact they are still willing to help maintain the pumps.
“At the end of the day they are committed to maintaining a very expensive piece of infrastructure…so they are coming to the table,” said McLauchlin.
The two sides expect to meet again in the fall and a deal could be reached as early as the new year.