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Town solidifies water conservation bylaw in the face of impending drought

Posted on March 21, 2024 by Taber Times

By Cal Braid
Taber Times
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

With the municipality and province bracing for emergency water shortages, Taber’s town council was asked to amend its water conservation bylaw in order to update the bylaw that had been in place for over 23 years. 

On March 11, the meeting agenda said, “The proposed changes are intended to align with current and relevant water conservation practices seen in other communities. (It ensures) that the revised bylaw meets the needs and expectations of today’s environmental and regulatory landscape. Additionally, accompanying supporting documents have been prepared to provide context for these changes to the ratepayers of the community, further reinforcing the importance and relevance of water conservation if or when required.”

Fire Chief Steve Munshaw appeared before council to explain an error in the existing bylaw. Section 8.04 said any Town customer or other person who contravenes the bylaw will be guilty of an offense and may “further forfeit the right to be supplied with water at the discretion of the CAO” after first, second and third offenses.

“That’s not a thing that we can do,” Munshaw said. “We cannot tell people they cannot have water or remove that from them.” He said numerous sets of eyes reviewed the document before the mistake was discovered. He asked council to correct the error. Munshaw also pointed out a zoning map in the agenda that was an improvement upon the previous, more convoluted version of the map.

“Does this align with our neighbouring communities?” Coun. Firth asked about the bylaw as a whole. Munshaw said that this version of the bylaw was adopted after reviewing the best practices of Foothills County and finding them in alignment with what Taber hoped to implement. Firth said, “I know that in this climate, we are expected to be making plans for water conservation. My concern is that while we can’t direct our neighbours to do anything, that they’re taking the same steps that we are. That we’re all kind of drawing towards the same goal.”

Munshaw told Coun. Bekkering that this particular bylaw would only come into effect in the case of a Stage 3 emergency. Mayor Prokop clarified a distinction between the municipality and the province. 

“Stage 3 is the highest on our (town’s) level. There are five stages with the province and we’re at Stage 4 now I believe, right?” he asked Munshaw, who nodded. “So the next stage, if we get there, is a disaster stage. But if we’re in a disaster stage, what are the practicalities of following through with anything bylaw related?”

Munshaw explained a hypothetical situation in which the province moved into Stage 5 disaster, but preferred to focus on immediate, short-term plans to stave off a worst-case scenario. 

“Our hope between then and now is that we educate, support and look for water conservation, hence (maintaining) the lower stages. Trying to maintain a minimal level of water usage, trying to cut back and educate,” he reiterated.

Coun. Sorensen made a motion to remove the phrase “forfeit the right to be supplied with water” from the original document and it was unanimously approved. Second and third readings and motions yielded the same result.

Town CAO Derrin Thibault explained the bylaw in itself is not a prescribed set of measures to be implemented in a drought year, but that it is instead the means that allow the Town to enact measures as the situation dictates. When Town officials deem it necessary to make provisions for the conservation and restriction of the use of water and for the protection of the supply of water, it can be used as a regulatory tool.

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