April 24th, 2024

High chance of local water restrictions this spring and summer

By COLLIN GALLANT on March 15, 2024.

A fallen tree points toward Medicine hat city Hall over the South Saskatchewan River on March 12, 2024. -- News Photo Collin Gallant.


City of Medicine Hat water officials say without significant rainfall in Southern Alberta there is a high likelihood Medicine Hat will see opposite day watering restrictions for lawns and parks this spring and summer.

Whether that’s voluntary or mandatory remains to be determined by the level in South Saskatchewan river.

City environmental utilities director Jamie Garland told the News Thursday that the city is in advanced talks guided by the province’s Environment ministry with other large water users to avert water shortages during an expected dry summer.

Municipalities, industries and irrigation districts would potentially swap unused portions within river basins of water licenses to help maintain reservoir and river flow levels.

“We’re trying to make the best usage of water throughout the basin,” said Garland. “Each has an individual water shortage plan and we’re trying to align ourselves to maximize the resource as best we can.”

The local plan, developed last August at the tail end of a dry summer and obtained by the News this week, would see increasing measures to preserve water from residences, city operations and industrial customers as drought conditions worsen.

That staged approach that would tighten rules about water use depending on levels in the South Saskatchewan River and throughout the basin.

A final stage – enacted if record low flow on the South Saskatchewan River persists for more than two weeks – would see most non-essential uses banned in favour of domestic use, to pressurize fire hydrants, and provide amounts for the steam-turbine at the city’s power plant.

Medicine Hat enacted the first level of its water conservation plan last summer – asking residents to be conscious of water use and reduce non-essential use on a voluntary basis – and still remains there throughout the winter.

“Primarily (Phase 1) affects our internal (city) department, and parks is a big one, but with the reservoirs upstream being critically low, we’ll probably move to Phase 2,” said Garland.

Phase 2 of a city plan would mandate residents limit sprinklers to 30 minutes per day three days per week, prohibit outdoor pools and hot tub use and ask residents to wash full loads of laundry and dishes.

Throughout the stages, irrigation at parks, sports field, the cemetery, and Echodale would be limited in phases, and hours of spray decks would be limited.

The plan notes, however, the irrigation for substantial areas, such as golf courses, Echodale and fields at the Big Marble Go Centre is supplied by wells or the St. Mary’s Irrigation Districts, not the potable water system.

Water main flushing would cease, and operations at all city facilities would be tasked to reduce consumption.

Stage 3 would be reached in severe drought conditions, and limit lawn watering to 30 mins twice per week by hand and not with sprinklers. Industry would be limited to levels to maintain operations.

Stage 4, enacted if the South Saskatchewan River fell below previous record low levels for two consecutive weeks, would ban all out door residential water use, limited city operations to only essential use allowing a higher percentage of water allotted to domestic needs and fire hydrants.

Alberta’s Enivronment Minister said she hoped that it wouldn’t come to that during a press conference this week, but said the province is planning for dry conditions to persist. More would be known about runoff in early April.

“By then we’ll have more data about what things will look like in the spring and summer,” she told reporters in a telepress conference detailing water projects in the recent budget.

“Albertans have been through this before and they’re ready to come to the table, roll up their sleeves and help other major users in their basin.”

Medicine Hat supplies drinking water to addresses in the city as well as deliveries to Desert Blume, Dunmore and several water co-ops close to the city.

Redcliff, with its own water treatment plant and utility network, introduced changes to its own conservation plan at town council this week.

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