“This river is our lifeline,” says Dave Robertson, Okotoks’ operations manager. “We could have pumped it out and grown the population to 100,000—until the fish are flopping—but we chose to preserve the natural environment.”
The town has ambitious targets in the quest for sustainability, including zero waste by 2015. And by not becoming a large bedroom community, it has ensured a healthy water source in an area known for droughts. Says Mary Trudeau, a principal at Marbek Resource Consultants in Ottawa and an expert on sustainable communities and water resources, “They’ve recognized that water supplies aren’t infinite. That’s remarkable; our approach in Canada is often to say, ‘There’s always another source,’ and to build another pipeline. Well, sooner or later, you can’t.”
The town has converted river valley land into parks and instituted aggressive measures, such as replacing old distribution lines, improving waste-water treatment (to replace what is taken from the river) and creating outdoor watering restrictions. “There’s a recognized limit to the water supply here,” says Robertson, “but we know that growth will occur. We have to manage it.”
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