By J.W. Schnarr
A local ratepayer expressed frustration over a problem neighbour draining water onto his land, and what the Municipal District of Taber can and cannot do in regards to people who defy the permit process for moving water.
The issue arose during a presentation by Jack Dunsmore, director of planning and infrastructure, at the M.D. council annual general meeting during the evening of April 28 in council chambers. Dunsmore told those in attendance the biggest issue he deals with is drainage.
During discussion, a ratepayer informed council about a neighbour who had been draining water onto his land, something the neighbour claimed he had a permit to do, which had been granted by the M.D. The ratepayer demanded to know why this had been allowed. He also said he had been told by administration the neighbour had no permits to change the direction of the water, but then the neighbour had produced a permit which said he was allowed to do so. The neighbour had also hired a commercial outfit to undertake the work, which the ratepayer said was also confusing if no permission had been given.
“It didn’t make any sense,” the ratepayer said. “The neighbor claimed to have a permit, but for whatever reason, he would not produce it at any time. I could only assume that he had no permit, and relations were pretty strained after that.”
The ratepayer added that the neighbour finally did provide that permit, which was provided to Dunsmore.
Dunsmore immediately responded by saying he’d given the neighbor permission to drain his water to the South, and not to the north onto the ratepayer’s property. He added there were drawings available showing the original plans, which would show the work was intended to be done on the southern section of the property, and that anything the neighbour did to the northern edge of his property had been done without permission.
At that point, the ratepayer asked about penalizing his neighbour for undertaking work he had not been permitted to do, and Dunsmore responded by saying penalties for water issues could only be meted out by the province, and that municipalities have no jurisdiction when it comes to water issue enforcement and private land.
“These actions are not conducive to a good community environment,” the ratepayer said. “Is there anything the municipality can do to protect the rights of the innocent?”
Division 2 Coun. Tom Machacek apologized for M.D. administration being unable to originally find the related paperwork for the issue, and that staff have learned from mistakes they may have made early on in the process.
“That’s a little embarrassing,” he said. “This was one of the first issues they dealt with, and personally, I feel that council might have made an error (granting the application).
“If that caused you any problems, we apologize for that. It wasn’t our intent,” he added. He told the ratepayer the issue has since been put on a priority list with the intent of straightening out the problems and getting the area back to a satisfactory condition for those involved. He noted one of the primary requirements of the application was that the neighbour get in touch with ratepayers in the area to inform them of his plans and to discuss what could happen. At this point, the ratepayer said that had not occurred.
Acting Reeve at the time, Dwight Tolton said the application was one of the first ones approved in the M.D. when they began the process of tackling the drainage issues in the area, and that process has changed over time as council has learned more about the process.
“Believe me, we don’t do that anymore,” he said. “You need to know that I told him to put the dirt back. That was my comment to him. Don’t worry. If he’s doing it, we’ll straighten it out.”
Municipal Administrator Derrick Krizsan said drainage issues in the M.D. have been ongoing for the past five years.
“It’s interesting, because Alberta Environment, who is in charge of enforcing the legislation, had no idea what the role was for municipalities regarding the Water Act. We had our first meetings in the middle of the floods, and irrigation districts, municipalities, everybody was pointing somewhere else. There was a lot of misunderstanding about who is really in charge when that water hits the ground.
“I hate to say that rainfall is an enemy, but when it comes 10 inches at a time, it’s our common enemy. It’s been a tough 5 years, getting people to understand their role in this issue. “
Following discussion, Dunsmore said the irrigation districts have been very good to work with during that time.