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Owl River residential water discussions begin to flow

Owl River residents need better access to potable water, says their local municipal politician.

OWL RIVER - Owl River residents need better access to potable water, says their local municipal politician. The installation of a water fill station near the Owl River Hall for rural residents across the northern portion of the municipality would not only assist in their day-to-day lives, but will also create safer roads for all area motorists, says Sterling Johnson.  

Access to potable water utility services for many residents who don’t have water main hookups throughout Lac La Biche County is made possible by two water fill stations located in the hamlets of Lac La Biche and Plamondon. For many residents, travelling and lugging water on major highways to supply their homes is not only tedious but dangerous, says Johnson. The councillor and others who represent rural residents have heard the concerns from ratepayers many times. In his ward, Johnson says the already-significant traffic flow from Highway 881 makes those regular “water run” roundtrips of up to 100 kilometres to the two fill stations even more of a challenge. 

“Highway 881 traffic is something that you always contend with. Most people are making four to eight trips to fill their water tanks,” said Johnson. “We have to get these trucks off the road. We know that every time we have a water truck on the road it’s going under the speed limit, and with the amount of traffic going down 811…it is a hazard.” 

The potable water concern is the second water-related issue in the Owl River area that has been addressed by council members in recent weeks. Johnson recently raised the issue of creating a water holding tank system to assist firefighting needs in the Owl River area that would bring a steady supply of water for fighting fires in the rural area. Currently the hall relies on a water tanker truck and whatever capacity can be filled into their fire engine. The option to fill the equipment from the nearby Owl River or Lac La Biche lake can be a challenge for some of the machinery, and also with long winter months, much of the nearby natural water sources are not accessible.  

Considering access to Lac La Biche Lake is frozen most of the year, the dangerous fire season and potential emergency situations, it’s a project that needs to be explored for the benefit of both the residents and the local department, Johnson says. 

“There was basically no way of accessing the lake or water this winter so if there was a fire, the fire trucks have about seven minutes of water basically on them and then after that, we would wait for  another three-quarters of an hour for a fire truck to come from Lac La Biche to service the area ... So fire safety is a real concern.” 

That concern, he said, will hopefully soon be addressed with a $100,000 plan to install large water well and cistern at the Owl River fire hall for firefighting use only. 

While the water in that plan would not be potable — safe to drink — Johnson said if a potable water fill station was created in the area, it would serve both residents and the firefighting needs.  

“There is a plan in play already for tanks for the fire department, but why have it there if it’s not going to be potable? Why not make it accessible to the community? We could just add some more money and make it potable,” he said. 

Several dozen Owl River residents recently presented an information petition to Lac La Biche County councillors asking for just that. 

The petition had signatures from residents in the Owl River area, including Blais Resort, Poplar Point, Square Lake, Golden Sands, and other rural areas in the northern portions of Lac La Biche County. 

Time, money and safety were all factors in the description of the petition.  

“This costs the residents a great deal of time and money driving long distances to the nearest fill station,” noted the residents in the petition's accompanying letter. 

Capital budget options 

Currently, there is a a community water access plan in the municipality’s future capital spending plans, but the specifics have yet to be approved. 

Johnson would like to have the potable water fill station plan added to the $32 million budget for upcoming capital projects ... or at least have future funds earmarked for the specific project.  

“I think we have to consider this was a project at some point,” he said. 

Municipal administrators and staff will be exploring costs and details of the project to bring back to a later council meeting for further discussion. Johnson is happy to see it being discussed as a future budget item. 

“At a later date at least we can have some costing and some ideas on how to solve this problem, he said. “Whether they want to make a plant or make tanks available that are filled up ... We can’t just let it sit as unfunded. We need a solution for this."