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Water conservation top priority for 2024, says Lethbridge Mayor

From water shortages to tightening budgets, Lethbridge city council has a lot on its plate in 2024.

Mayor Blaine Hyggen sat down with the CBC’s Lethbridge Bureau reporter Ose Irete for a year-end interview to discuss some of council’s priorities this new year.

Here is part of that conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

IRETE: Addiction and related issues like housing often require provincial and federal funding. However, what do you think the city can do within its powers to help?

HYGGEN: If we take things on as a community, there’s lesser chance that the provincial or federal government will come with the dollars. So it’s a really fine line on what we should do and what we can do.

We have put dollars forward to different grants where we will match [contributions from] other levels of government.

In the hope that they will move quicker on getting housing to Lethbridge, we put $5.4 million in three different resolutions here last year. [We said], “if the federal government matches us, we’ll put these dollars in.”

The dollars that we put in wouldn’t be enough to construct all of the work being done by these organizations. That’s why it’s important to collaborate with other levels of government.

What we can do is make sure that the agencies that are working within our community have the support that they need. That’s not just financial support. That’s by answering the questions they have, advocating on their behalf, and signing letters to provincial and federal government.

Something we can do better is to connect these different organizations so we don’t have duplication of services and they’re more efficient in what they do.

Daybreak Alberta7:46Water shortages and conservation top priority for Lethbridge in 2024

Our Lethbridge bureau reporter Ose Irete brings us the details.

What are the most pressing issues for the next two years of your term?

Water, wastewater. We are pretty much at capacity, so we’re going to have to expand that infrastructure. It’s not a “sexy” thing to say we’re going to get water, wastewater, as much as this, to say we’re going to get a new rink or a new pool. But it is of great importance.

How does the city plan to address the issue of water going forward?

We had voluntary water rationing for people’s lawns this last year and we saw quite a remarkable savings in water. However, there’s more that we can do, and that probably will happen. We’ve tasked administration to look into strategies moving forward. Instead of voluntary, we may have specific days for water rationing.

As you look at the snowpack in the mountains, there’s not much of it and we’re into December here. So this is a concern. We’re dealing with it at our very first meeting in January.

What strategies would you like to see to see to mitigate this long term?

I spoke a few days ago with our previous mayor, mayor [Chris] Spearman. We had quite a lengthy discussion on some of the strategies that they’re doing down in Australia, where they’re capturing any of the water that comes in. They’re capturing rain water and using that so that you’re not actually pulling from the river, in our case. 

Xeriscaping our lawns by changing them to something that doesn’t require water. We have many acres of parks in Lethbridge. Many of them are lawns. Do we have to change that to maybe look at some xeriscaping there as well? These are strategies we need to look at going forward. Not just look at but actually implement because it’s getting to that point where I don’t believe we’ve done enough.

Oldman Reservoir Outflow at Oldman Dam
The Oldman Reservoir pictured here supplies Lethbridge and area with water. Record low water levels prompted voluntary water restrictions last summer. (Government of Alberta)

A lot of these are changes to people’s lifestyle. How do you sell that to citizens?

Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s pretty straightforward that if if we don’t do these, you will not have water.

We’ve seen this happen in areas like California, where they were without water for days and sometimes bringing in water because of not rationing or not listening to the experts. It’s a hard sell because I love to water my lawn, too, but it’s a hard sell if we don’t have water.

How do you see the city keeping up with the demands on its budget as Lethbridge grows?

I wish I had the crystal ball to answer that question. I don’t know.

Some people have been caught flat-footed. I looked at some of my colleagues that are out in Osoyoos, B.C., that are going to be hitting a 39 per cent tax increase. I don’t want to see that. I couldn’t support that.

We have to become more efficient in what we do. We had, for example, some pickleball courts that we had approved in a budget. [We] had to downsize them. It’s just the reality. Costs are going up. We need to tighten the purse string and tighten that belt and make sure that we’re being more efficient in everything that we do, and we may have to drop some of the wants and replace them with the needs in our community.

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