By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on January 11, 2024.
With lower than normal water levels in reservoirs across southern Alberta, the City of Lethbridge is asking residents to be proactive and start conserving water now to avoid major consequences in the future.
Director of Infrastructure Services Joel Sanchez spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon and said the City is working with internal and external stakeholders to find ways to address water supply concerns.
“The City provides water as a regional supplier for the county and other towns around the city, and we’re working with them. We have been working with them for a few months now, and the outcomes and the results will be presented for council’s consideration,” said Sanchez.
He said more detailed information will be discussed at the Jan. 23 meeting of Lethbridge city council and the Feb. 1 meeting of the Assets and Infrastructure Standing Policy Committee.
Sanchez said residents need to be aware reservoir water levels are very low at the moment and the City is continuing to monitor them, as well as the precipitation forecast that may increase the supply.
“The St. Mary Reservoir is in the single digits right now, which is almost historical levels, as typically at this time it is over 50 per cent. And when you go to the Oldman water reservoir, that has been declining. Sometime in July of last year it was around 60 per cent. By September it was around 35 per cent and the latest number that we have is less than 30,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said because of the decreasing water levels experienced in the Oldman reservoir, the City introduced voluntary water conservation measures last year and it thanks residents for doing their part because this resulted in a 20 per cent reduction in water use.
The City is also encouraging residents to continue taking steps to conserve water to avoid stronger restrictions in the future.
“We are looking at the plans that we have in place, making sure those plans are updated and we’re working with the province. The province has different options that they could exercise, and that includes working with our regional partners,” said Sanchez.
Â He said all the water used in the province is based on a license system and depending on their license a municipality may have the right to pull water from the river.
Â “Municipalities across the province overall are responsible for about three per cent of the water being pulled from the rivers. Most of the water is being done by the irrigation districts across the province,” said Sanchez.
Â He said to avoid stronger restrictions for the whole area, a team effort including municipalities and the irrigation districts is needed.
“There are opportunities that we need to explore, and this is the time to do it. Also, not necessarily tie everything that we’re going to be doing to the drought conditions. We know with climate change and everything that is going on this is happening more and more. So we really need to adapt to those changes,” said Sanchez.
Â He said this is the time to start thinking about changes that can be done to reduce water reduction at home, such as switching to low-flush toilets.
City counsellor Belinda Crowson spoke to reporters about an inquiry she brought forward in a past city council meeting regarding the water shortage and the reason behind it.
“We’re hearing concerns from the public, myself and I’m sure all members of council have been hearing the same concerns about what the reality is, what are the water levels, will there be rationing in the spring, and also what can they do,” said Crowson.
Â She said with this inquiry she is helping people who are asking if they should be getting drip irrigation because now is when gardeners start thinking about what type of systems to put in.
Â “The public would like some information and when we do inquiries like that it is a chance for our administration to bring forward information and to help educate the public, so that’s why I brought that inquiry forward. Because instead of trying to answer every member of the public individually, this will give Mr. Sanchez an opportunity on Jan. 23 to bring that information forward to the public as a whole,” said Crowson.