Southern Alberta golf club asks for 'fair' water bill

Crowsnest Pass Golf Club has asked municipal council to negotiate a “fair rate” for its water utilities, with club president Hal Nummi claiming that the new fees unduly burden heavy users and non-profit recreation.

Mayor and council acknowledged that the club is a community mainstay, agreeing in principle to revisit the issue at a later date.

Nummi voiced the club’s concerns at the head of a council delegation on Jan. 17 that was attended by upwards of 40 members and volunteer directors.

“I’ll be frank,” he said. “The real reason we are here is that, historically, our non-profit club has never paid for water — ever — until around two years ago.”

Speaking for its roughly 230 local members, Nummi said the club paid for a new pump house and water line at its 18-hole course in Blairmore “on the understanding that the municipality would continue to provide water at zero cost.”

The municipality started billing the club for water at 90 cents per cubic metre in the summer of 2020. According to Nummi, the municipality then agreed to subsidize the club’s water costs through an annual grant.

The municipality sent the club a $70,000 cheque in January 2021, based on the club’s estimated water costs for the 2020 season. Water costs exceeded $110,000 for the fiscal year 2021, for which Nummi said the municipality kicked in $50,000 in 2022 — after the club put in for a municipal grant it assumed would renew every year.

The president later qualified that the club’s volunteer board doesn’t expect an indefinite supply of free water.

“We just want a fair rate for non-profit recreation,” he said, asking to meet with council to hammer out “a fair rate for large-volume users.”

With water costs hitting around $120,000 last year, Nummi said the club had to put a roughly $200 “water levy” on its roughly $2,000 annual membership fees, plus a roughly $4 levy on green fees paid by non-members.

Nummi didn’t have a ready answer when Mayor Blair Painter asked, “What’s an example of a fair rate?” but stressed that direct talks would hopefully resolve the situation.

Painter invited Nummi to sit in on council’s lengthy meetings leading up to budget 2024.

Waren Gietz, the club’s general manager, told Shootin’ the Breeze the club goes to great lengths to curb its water consumption. The golf course boasts a highly efficient irrigation system and drought-resistant turf, he said. The club’s highly-trained grounds crew closely monitors other potential environmental impacts, setting up buffering systems to guard against fertilizer runoff into nearby waterways.

“We’re all environmental stewards here,” Gietz said.

The Town of Pincher Creek doesn’t charge the town’s golf club (also a non-profit) for the roughly 2.45 million gallons of water it uses to irrigate the club’s nine-hole course, according to club spokesman Charles Clymer.

The golf course and nearby Matthew Halton High School draw water from a shared irrigation pond that holds roughly 700,000 gallons. Clymer said the pond levels are measured by a float level instead of a water meter, and that the club draws on between three and four ponds’ worth of water per season, depending on the weather.

Crowsnest Pass Golf Club employs roughly 70 seasonal staff and eight full-time staff. The club’s unpaid board directors have zero financial equity in the club, as per Alberta’s Societies Act. The club invests its revenues in the course, after paying for staff, according to Nummi.

Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze