Chapter 10. Missions, Cowboys and an Urban Thirst
Sailing lessons on the Glenmore Reservoir — how many Calgary sailors have got their start that way? Today the reservoir hosts many little boats, white sails straining as they dash out to the buoy and back. Near the north shore the long dark dragon boats are out for some training, paddles dipping and pulling in perfect rhythm. Further west, two red canoes move smoothly through the calmer water in the lee of the shore, headed to the Weaselhead wetlands at the head of the reservoir. Blast of a horn and the S.S. Moyie turns a corner on its way back to Heritage Park. A nice summer day on the water. But recreation is not the reason this reservoir exists.
The Glenmore Reservoir was created in the 1930s to meet an insatiable need for water in a rapidly growing city. Today, Calgary, like all such municipalities, is responsible for providing safe water for drinking and other uses, as well as proper disposal of wastewater and stormwater, all to very high standards. Those regulations have been a long time coming. In early days, the water supply was not treated at all, but was taken directly from, and disposed into, the Bow and Elbow rivers. When municipal officials realized that water quality had become a major health issue, they treated the water supply prior to distribution. Much later, they also began to treat wastewater before it was returned to the watercourse. But amazingly, it was not until the 1970s that provincial regulations were imposed on both. And as water quantity became an issue, daily and annual caps were also placed on extraction of water from watercourses.
Since its earliest development, Calgary has depended on its rivers for water. By 1900, however, the Bow had become significantly polluted due to upstream activities like mining and forestry; the Elbow, with its more pristine watershed, offered a purer source of water. To better access this water, a 16-kilometre gravity feed water line, promoted by engineer and City Council member John “Gravity” Watson, was surveyed from the Elbow River west of town to a city reservoir at 24th Street and 26th Avenue SW (near today’s Richmond Green Golf Course).