February 28th, 2024

Plans required by municipalities in case drought persists

By Medicine Hat News on January 20, 2024.

The province is asking municipalities to draw up plans for water conservation in case drought conditions continue again into the next growing season.--FILE PHOTO

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Municipalities in Alberta have been told to draw up contingency plans in case of worsening drought conditions in the spring, evaluate how low river levels may affect intake pumps at water plants and develop protocols to implement water conservation measures.

Letters to municipal councils from Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz were received this week, telling utility administrators to also evaluate how their water licences may be affected if calls to knock off users are implemented.

“We are asking all water users to start planning now to use less water in 2024,” reads the letter, which expands on an announcement this month that a “Drought Command Team” has been created to co-ordinate actions.

“During summer 2023, several water basins reached critical drought conditions due to low rainfall and high temperatures,” it continues. “The world is also experiencing El Niño, a global phenomenon occurring for the first time in seven years. It’s causing less snow and rain, along with higher temperatures, heightening the potential for significant drought into spring and summer 2024, particularly in southern Alberta.”

Developing an inaugural drought management plan was recently discussed at a County of Newell meeting.

In 2023 it asked residents to voluntarily reduce water consumption, such as using less water for lawns, as did the City of Brooks, which also uses water from the Eastern Irrigation District System.

The St. Mary’s Irrigation District stated in a planned monthly update Friday that its storage levels are stable, though less than is typically targeted at this time of year. As well, the snow pillow in the mountains, which fills the Oldman River system, is increasing compared to December but is still less in many locations than during its all-time driest year in 2000-2001.

It notes that significant snow can fall from January onwards, but “based on the current supply situation, we continue to strongly advise each member to commence planning their crops considering the possibility of not receiving a full allocation of water per acre for the 2024 irrigation season.

The next update from SMRID is due Feb. 15.

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