Alberta budget boosts water spending to address drought, growing population

Alberta Minister of Transportation photo
Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors, Devin Dreeshen, noted that in 2023, Alberta's population is estimated to have grown by nearly 200,000 residents. Photo Credit: Screen capture via YouTube, Province of Alberta

Alberta has targeted $482 million over three years for municipal water programs and infrastructure in its 2024 budget, with an emphasis on managing water for the future. 

The earmarked spending proposal is up nearly $74 million over last year’s budget. It includes a planned $206.5 million for the Alberta Municipal Water/Wastewater Partnership, $237.7 million in Water for Life grants, and $37.7 million in funding for the First Nations Water Tie-In Program. 

“Alberta’s government recognizes the huge demand for water that comes with a growing population,” announced Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors. “Through Budget 2024, we are helping municipalities by funding new and repairing old water systems,” he added. 

During the budget’s announcement at a news conference in Leduc, Alberta, it was noted that the average cost of repairing infrastructure has gone up by about 28%.  

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Dreeshen also noted that in 2023, Alberta’s population is estimated to have grown by nearly 200,000 residents. 

The Water for Life program helps municipalities cover up to 90% or 100% of the costs for specified projects. Alberta’s First Nations Water Tie-In Program funds up to 100% of costs to connect a First Nation to an existing regional water system. Seven communities are currently connected to water systems through the tie-in program. 

As the province deals with its worst drought since 2001, a key element of the proposed budget will be $4.5 million to study a new Ardley Water Reservoir in the Red Deer Basin. Additionally, $10 million is proposed to explore options for water storage in the communities of Waterton – Belly – St. Mary Basins and Ardley. Alberta would also launch a province-wide review to determine other areas where new water storage projects would be most beneficial.   

On that same front, $19 million is earmarked as an operating expense to create a modern, 21st century water strategy to increase water availability through enhanced storage, conservation, data systems and policies, the provincial officials announced. 

The province is also set to invest $75 million for a renewed flood and drought program, as well as $8.7 million for the Wetland Replacement Program and $3.5 million for the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program to improve Alberta’s natural drought protection. 

For other notable investments, City of Leduc councillor and chair of the Capital Region Southwest Water Services Commission, Lars Hansen, applauded the province for funding the $21-million Nisku Booster Station, expected to be built later in 2024. 

“Investment from the province in the Nisku Booster Station supports our ability to maintain adequate water pressure throughout the Commission’s distribution network, which is important to our residents and helps provide a high quality of life,” Hansen announced. 

Another key budget item is $163 million to complete the Springbank off-stream reservoir to store flood waters and provide protection from future flooding. 

In terms of wastewater funding, the 2024 budget would provide $50 million over three years to upgrade wastewater treatment through the expansion of the ARROW Utilities Wastewater Treatment Plant in Strathcona County, which supports communities throughout the Edmonton area. When completed, the expansion will provide an additional treatment output of 35-million litres per day. 

Provincial officials also announced that treated wastewater from the ARROW facility will be used to support the production of hydrogen at Air Products’ hydrogen plant, eliminating the need to use water that is treated for residential use. 

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