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27th July 2020
EDITORS NOTE: Clearly, the developer did not have to prove water capacity prior to his permits being issued. Our population must also wake up and learn to ask the questions prior to purchasing a home in a rural setting.

Water fight brewing in Rocky View County

Homeowners in upscale subdivision blame developer, county for dwindling water

Bryan Labby CBC News Posted: Jul 27, 2020 5:00 AM MT Last Updated: 6 hours ago

On Calgary's eastern boundary, just north of the Trans-Canada Highway, you'll find the exclusive neighbourhood of Cambridge Park, where 200 mega-sized homes have sprung up over the past decade.

And despite the recession and a global pandemic, the 4,000- to 6,000-square-foot homes typical of the area are still being built.

But there's a problem with the water supply for the community. There isn't enough of it.

The developer, Amar Developments, has spent tens of thousands of dollars to truck water into the community for three years while residents in the mansion-sized properties continue to use more than most Albertans, according to information from the Alberta Utilities Commission.

Those costs are now being passed onto homeowners, some of whom predict they'll have to pay hundreds of dollars more each month.

They realize sympathy is hard to come by for people who live in million-dollar-plus homes, but they're not looking for pity. Instead, they feel they're being forced to pay for poor planning as more homes tap into a water system that's under strain and unsustainable.

In Cambridge Park, you won't find a typical Alberta household. Beyond their enormity, many of the homes are filled with several generations of one family. It's not uncommon to see six, eight, 10 people under one roof and all of them drawing more water than most "single family" homes.

As the water use rises, the community's two ground-water wells are coming dangerously close to reaching maximum capacity.

The AUC says the continued operation of the water utility "within the next month" is not viable at the current rates that are being charged to homeowners. It said the community is at risk of losing its water and urgency is required.

Even the owner of the wells, Amar Developments, is at risk if rates aren't increased, says the AUC.

"The financial integrity of Amar might not be preserved," it stated.

Interim rate hike approved
So, the AUC agreed with the developer's request to charge homeowners more.

This month, the rate went up to $5 per cubic metre, but it almost triples if a household uses more than approximately 34 cubic metres in a month. The rate would be $14.50 per cubic metre for anything beyond that amount. By comparison, the water rate in Calgary is $1.52 per cubic metre.

A cubic metre of water contains 1,000 litres. Canadians use about 330 litres of water per day, among the highest per capita consumption rates in the developed world.

The AUC says that over the past four years, water usage in Cambridge Park has spiked to 40.8 cubic metres per house, per month, during the summer. In Calgary, the "typical" household uses 19 cubic metres per month (including outdoor irrigation).

In some parts of Rocky View County, there are no official utility services, and it's common for residents to have either their own wells that tap into ground water supplies or to make arrangements with private vendors.

In this case, it's Amar Development that is licensed by Alberta Environment to withdraw no more than 230 cubic metres per day from both wells. But due to well limitations, the company can withdraw only 173 cubic metres per day not enough to satisfy the community's thirst.

Through May and June, the company trucked in 3,000 cubic metres of water to pour into its reservoir at a cost of $60,000. The company projects it will spend another $100,000 this year to bring in even more water.

Extra costs for homeowners

Sunil Chaudhary predicts his water bill could climb as much as $100 per month, or roughly 65 per cent. There are eight people spanning four generations in his 3,800-square-foot home, which he purchased in 2015.

He's frustrated to see more homes going up in the community while demand for water is already reaching maximum capacity. He's particularly miffed with the $14.50 per cubic metre charge for any use beyond the average 1.1 cubic metre per day.

Chaudhary says they are becoming more aware of their water use and they are making changes, but it's not going to be easy.

"I have my parents living here, I have my grandparents living here. I live here with my wife and two kids. So that's eight people. The majority of these houses are multigenerational like that," said Chaudhary.

He says the developer has sent mixed messages to the county and the Alberta Utilities Commission about the water supply and how many more homes could be tied into the system.

"It seems very unfair, very disingenuous that you can tell one government body that there's not enough [water], and you can tell another government body, 'I have enough,' and then do the bait and switch on the residents," he said.

"It's like Rocky View is not talking to the AUC. How come they're not talking to each other and saying, 'hey, how much water is really there?'"

He feels the current homeowners are being forced to pay for new development, which he says should be put on hold until the subdivision ties into another water source. And he's not alone. Aaron Chatha's parents purchased a home in Cambridge Park and face the same increases.

"If Amar Developments and our regulatory bodies didn't do the research and now we're running out of water, why are residents paying the price for their mistakes? For not doing their due diligence?"

He says some residents feel like they're being punished by the developer for opposing a planned light industrial and commercial development that will be built adjacent to their homes.

Chatha notes that 150 people signed a petition against it.

"We got a water notice right after, that it had increased [the rates]" he said.

No retaliation, costs are real

The developer which also owns and operates the community's water treatment facility denies the increases are being used to punish those who oppose the development, which was approved by Rocky View County this month.

"No, not at all," said Rani Duhra with Amar Developments.

"It's simply, again, just to cover the costs of the water trucking, there's no other reason for it," she said.

She says residents can keep their costs down if they reduce their water use.

Duhra says the goal is to eventually tie into a more reliable water supply that she expects to be extended into the community next year.

"That's the hope on the horizon here, we are asking residents to work with us for the next year," said Duhra.

Piping water in

Rocky View County is considering options to extend an existing water line to tie into Cambridge Park and the new business and commercial development; however, the area councillor says there's still no timeline or details about who will cover the cost.

"There is water here that, you know, can help out the whole community," said Coun. Jerry Gautreau.

"We just have to come up with some type of solution. And that solution is going to come from our administration to bring something to council with the current landowners and developers," he said.

Gautreau says the supply issue doesn't fall under the county's jurisdiction.

"It's a private water system that is controlled by Alberta Environment," he said.

"Rocky View County does not have anything to do with this current water supply or situation as it is privately owned, as we have multiple privately owned water co-ops in the county."

Residents get their say

Homeowners are hoping to send a message to the Alberta Utilities Commission, which approved the interim rate increase and will now deliberate on a final decision.

The deadline for stakeholder submissions is July 29.

"We just want somebody to listen," said Chaudhary.