Mayor Jeff Genung says the innovative agreement reached with the Girl Guides of Canada to secure more water rights will save the town $10s of millions.

Yesterday, the town announced Alberta Environment and Protected Areas has approved the full transfer the 3,600 acre-feet-per-year (AFY) of the Girl Guides of Canada water licence from Camp Jubilee to the Town of Cochrane. 

In exchange, the town will provide water service to Camp Jubilee, located on the banks of the Bow River, at an estimated cost of about $8 million, including planning. Over time, the water connection fee for new growth established last September will cover the cost.

Jeff GenungMayor Jeff Genung. (file photo)

Since the early 2010s, the town has been faced with the need to secure more water rights to avoid stifling growth, something Genung says other municipalities like Okotoks have faced in the past.

"The amount of effort, work and energy behind the scenes for years on this file to be able to finally check it off is a huge win," says Genung. "I'm also excited that it allows us to have capacity to start to work on some of the other big things, so it's good to have this one behind us."

Town council began discussing the issue at least as far back as 2012. It's also been an issue in every municipal election since.

On the surface, it seems like a quick fix, right? Just walk up to the counter and ask for one. But it doesn't work that way.

In the mid-2000s, the province put a moratorium on applications for any new water licences for the entire South Saskatchewan basin, which includes the Bow, Red Deer and Old Man rivers. That means Cochrane needed to purchase an existing consumption licence.

Genung says they typically costs $10s of millions of dollars, are hard to find, and are usually limited in volume.

Genung is excited for what it means for the Girl Guides.

"To be able to work with the Girl Guides camp and bring them away with a win at the same time as the community is a good story all around."

It's likely other municipalities will be taking note of how the town was able to secure the licence by combining consumptive and nonconsumptive licences.

"I think once ground has been broken, and the trail has been kind of blazed, others follow and I'm sure Alberta Environment didn't allow us to pursue this without realizing that this would be setting some precedent in the province, so they must be comfortable with this as a path going forward. I think this will be something that other communities are going to look to emulate."

The town's work isn't quite done. It's now at 80 per cent of the water rights sought in its 25-year water strategy and continues to negotiation with other parties.