April 12th, 2024

City monitoring water situation

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on November 3, 2023.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

In 30 years of watching water levels in the Oldman River, Doug Kaupp has never seen them so low.

And he says there is a high probability those levels will be the focus of discussions next spring if winter snowfall doesn’t improve the situation.

Kaupp, General Manager of Water and Wastewater Services for the City of Lethbridge, said Thursday administration is in close communication with the province – which manages Alberta’s river system – about the situation and he’s confident that Lethbridge shouldn’t have any issues with water supply this winter.

Kaupp said that upcoming moisture levels depends on the El Nino weather system. If it lingers, southern Alberta could see a drier winter.

“We really don’t know what we’re going to get until we get it,” said Kaupp during a media session at City Hall.

The volume of water in the Oldman is the lowest it’s been since the construction of the dam in the 1980s but Kaupp pointed out the City made it through decades of winters before it was built with no storage in the river.

Right now the dam is holding about 20 per cent of its capacity, he said.

The City does have a plan in place if water supply does diminish but it will only be implemented in case of emergency.

After the City asked residents in August to voluntarily reduce their water consumption, Kaupp said there was a noticeable drop but he noted it’s easier to use less water in summer than in winter.

In those first weeks after the City request, peak water consumption by residents dropped by 20 per cent.

The City only draws about three per cent of water volume from the Oldman River, with the majority of that water – 95 per cent – being used for irrigation.

“The scale of irrigation projects is quite huge compared to the City of Lethbridge,” noted Kaupp.

With most snow falling in this region in March, it isn’t really possible to predict how much volume will be in the river next spring.

Water levels this year were low due to a combination of low winter snowpack and a hot, dry summer which resulted in higher than normal irrigation demands, said Kaupp.

As a precautionary measure to prevent problems, City staff are dredging the intake canal at the water treatment plant to remove sediment that could limit the hydraulic capacity of the intake.

The City says this work will lower the risk of deep freezing under low flow conditions during winter.

The City provides water and wastewater treatment services to more than 133,000 people in southern Alberta. That water is utilized not only by residents of Lethbridge but also Coaldale, Picture Butte, Coalhurst, Monarch, Diamond City, Turin, Iron Springs, Shaughnessy and County of Lethbridge. Those services are also used by regional industries.

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