Revisions to the Town of Blackfalds’ North West Stormwater Management project did little to ease Lacombe Lake residents’ concerns about the future of the lake.
About 100 people were in attendance at a project open house Wednesday evening, where town and Stantec representatives maintained their plans to filter stormwater through a series of wetlands en route to the lake meet and exceed Alberta Environment stormwater requirements.
No amount of assurances and explanations stormwater would enter the lake as clean as possible, however, won support for the project from lake residents and users.
Anita Alexander, a member of the Lacombe Lake Management Stewardship Society and one of the most outspoken opponents to the project, said her concerns hadn’t been addressed.
“They are still wanting to build a lot of stormwater ponds, link them all together and somehow channel that water to Lacombe Lake,” she said. “We do not want any of the issues that come with stormwater draining into Lacombe Lake.”
The primary issue she and others at the meeting have is the risk of pollutants and contaminants entering the lake.
Stantec’s Martine Francis, one of the designers of the system, said protecting the water quality of the lake would be achieved through a treatment chain. The theory behind the system is stormwater ponds, existing wetlands and constructed wetlands placed in series, along with vegetation and oil and grit separators, will filter out contaminants. Through phosphorous modelling, they estimate about 50 per cent of contaminants would be filtered out in the first pond alone.
Given how many wetlands there are, she said most stormwater would be absorbed or evaporated before it ever hit the lake. As for the risk of flooding, it would take more than 24 mm of rain in about a 24-hour period before the system would expel water into the lake.
Francis also noted they’ve committed to put down an additional 25-30 centimetres of topsoil to help with that absorption process.
Topsoil, however, was another concern of lake residents. Richard Thom echoed his concerns from the open house just over a year ago at the Lacombe County office that developers in Blackfalds weren’t putting down the required five inches of topsoil.
“The first filtering aspect to stormwater is the topsoil. If you have a thin amount of topsoil, you have very little filtering and the wetlands downstream have to do a lot of extra work,” he said.
“They’ve indicated they’re going to put down 25-30 centimetres of topsoil down which is wonderful if that happens, but it hasn’t yet…. I don’t really have a lot of faith all this will occur, so why should we risk destroying the wonderful, pristine recreational lake?”
Blackfalds Director of Infrastructure and Property Services Preston Weran said a soil management plan will be implemented to address the topsoil issue moving forward.
However, only developments going forward would be asked to adhere to requirements set out by the plan and properties to date that may not have the required amount of top soil won’t be forced to meet those standards.
“We’ve got to look at convincing residents to do some (Low Impact Development) systems and protect water that’s coming onto their land to ensure they’re allowing that to infiltrate or collecting stormwater for things like gardens and stuff like that.”
Only one person – a former lake resident – stood up in open support of the project. He did not name himself, and chose not to speak to media following the question period of the open house, but told those in opposition to the project that while he was sure they meant well in trying to protect the lake, they were actually doing it detriment.
Council, according to Mayor Richard Poole, is in “complete support” of the project. Only three members of council – Poole himself, and Councillors Ray Olfert and Will Taylor – were on the council that gave project approval.
Lacombe County, which deferred the sale of land that would help facilitate the project last year, has made no public statement of support either way on the project. However, they did make improvements to the northern outlet to alleviate an ongoing flooding issue at the lake.
With the second open house in the books, revised project plans and data gathered will now go back to Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). The review process could take about four months, according to Weran, and they’ll either provide Blackfalds with a Water Act approval, or ask for more information.
Should approval not be given, however, Blackfalds has no real “Plan B” alternative option for stormwater and will push AEP to find out what they can do to make the North West Stormwater Management Plan acceptable.
Diverting water into the Blindman River, as discussed prior to the open house, would not only put water into a different watershed it came from, but require a lift station and deviate water from pre-development drainage patterns. A lift station would also be required to divert stormwater around the lake and straight into the Whelp Brook/Wolf Creek area.
Creating their own stormwater pond is another option, but equally as infeasible to the town as building lift stations, not only with the dollar figure – estimated to be in the millions – but how it could hurt attraction of developers.
“The impact to future developers is substantial, too, because these hybrid storm ponds would be quite a bit larger than a traditional storm pond, so it would take up a lot more developable land,” Weran said.
As the plan goes above and beyond AEP’s standards, however, Blackfalds is confident approval will be given.
Alexander is hoping for the opposite.
“We’re already facing a lot of issues at the lake. Since the last human incursion – you might call it an assault on the lake – building the weir and diversion channel, we’ve had nothing but problems for the last 45 years,” she said.
“If this stormwater plan goes through, it’s going to make what we’ve endured look like a Sunday school picnic.”