The Town of Cochrane is well-positioned to respond to anticipated pressures during the upcoming drought season and continues to be a provincial leader in sustainable water use.

On Mar. 4, Shane Hubl, director of operations services, provided council with an update on the town's 2024 multi-faceted water resiliency action plan. Besides drought, it addresses the issues of aging infrastructure and population growth to ensure efficient use of water.

Hubl says Cochrane utilized 65 per cent of its allocated water licence in 2023. The town's current water license has a value of over $38 million and using it efficiently means more residents can be supported without acquiring further licences.

"Unfortunately, with our impact to the Bow River being so relatively small, we do need to recognize that Cochrane cannot solve provincial or even regional level droughts by itself, regardless of how much further restrictive we become with our water use," states Hubl's report.

From May-Oct 2023, the Bow River passing through Cochrane had an average daily flow of 85 m3/sec, and of that total, Cochrane’s average use was .11 m3/sec.

The overall impact of Cochrane on the Bow River during last summer's drought period was 0.12 per cent. When you consider that over three-quarters of that is returned to the river after processing at the Bonnybrook wastewater treatment facility, Cochrane's actual usage is approximately 0.03 per cent of the total flow passing through Cochrane.

The town has had great success in its water loss mitigation program launched in 2023.

From July to November, 13 separate water leak repair excavations were completed, reducing water loss to 12 per cent from 15.5 per cent, a 3.5 per cent reduction. It exceeded the target of a three per cent reduction.

"We reduced our total system loss by 71 million litres, resulting in a savings of $135,000 annually," says Hubl. "This amount of water saved has a water licence value of over $1,000,000 and is equivalent to the total annual water use of 376 households, or roughly the entire Riverview area."

water programResults of the town's 2023 water loss mitigation program. (chart/Town of Cochrane)

Hubl says using 2021 data, they were able to identify a loss of 552 million litres annually. He is confident more leaks be located and repaired this coming construction season.

"We fully understand that a water underground water system will never be fully watertight, but we'll endeavor to continue to chase leaks and repair them as we find them."

The leaks were discovered in the Glenbow and Gleneagles neighbourhoods. 

While Glenbow will continue to be their primary focus when the ground thaws, Hubl says they also recognize a major infrastructure replacement project is planned to fully replace water, sewer, and storm underground pipes and road structure along Glenpatrick Dr. from 5th Ave. and Glenbrook Cres.

Strong water-related policies have been the backbone of Cochrane's approach to ensuring water resiliency and were initially inspired by anticipated rapid growth.

"We were originally concerned that we would have run out of license by now to support growth," Hubl explains. "The original catalyst in 2007 wasn't drought, but it serves us very well in this regard as well."

Since then, Cochrane has collectively reduced the total litres per capita used daily from 400 to 255, a 36 per cent reduction.

Cochrane has tiered water rates that place the burden of high usage on those that impact the system the most. It remains at level one restriction year-round that limits outdoor water use. Residents can water outside between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. or 7 p.m. and 1 a.m.

The town offers a range of rebates for lawn alternatives, mulch, rescue soil, rain barrels, and high-efficiency toilets and washing machines.

water rebates programsThe town offers several water rebate incentives to residents. (image/Town of Cochrane)

"At Mayor Genung's prompting last year, we refreshed and relaunched our water rebate program with new initiatives and an intense communication strategy," said Hubl. "I'm pleased to say that our efforts were rewarded with a 31 per cent increase in water rebate applications over 2022, and doubled the amount of high-efficiency washer, rain barrel, and lawn alternative rebates."

The town continues to expand upon its water consumption education program that offers a wide range of practical tips on usage on the town website. It utilizes signage within the town and on occasion face-to-face meetings with water users.

"We met in person with many high-use water account holders and provided educational information about some of the more common high water use suspect features and fixtures in their homes," Hubl told council.

In 2023, the Cochrane water treatment plant produced 3,126 million litres of water. Approximately 2,006 million litres of this was consumed in residential homes. The average residential home used 388 litres/day during the winter and 494 litres/day during the summer.

Ninety-six per cent of the town water accounts are for resident properties. Four per cent are non-residential and account for 16 per cent of the town's water utilization.

Drought and flood protection program announced

Earlier in the day, Rebecca Schultz, Environment and Protected Areas minister announced a five-year, $125 million drought and flood protection program. It's designed to help vulnerable municipalities and Indigenous communities across the province develop the long-term infrastructure needed to improve their drought and flood resilience and adapt to severe weather.

She says we're seeing warmer than normal weather and less precipitation than typically received at this time of the year.

"Because we had a drought last year as well, it's even more significant. We haven't seen a drought like this since 2001."

She stressed the need for taking water conservation measures.

"I think it's very important to talk to Albertans and to businesses about the importance of water conservation at a time like this, so every drop that is not used by you will likely going be used by somebody downstream," said Schultz. 

Alberta Environment officials are scheduled to appear before town council on Mar. 18 to provide a provincial perspective on the drought situation.