By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on January 31, 2024.
“Without significant precipitation spring water levels are expected to be dire.”
That’s the message contained in a PowerPoint presentation the Assets and Infrastructure Standing Policy Committee of Lethbridge city council will see at its meeting Thursday.
The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall in council chambers.
Director of Infrastructure Services Joel Sanchez will be providing a water conservation update Thursday to the SPC.
Its members include chair Deputy Mayor Mark Campbell, vice-chair councillor Nick Paladino and fellow councillors Jeff Carlson and Ryan Parker.
In his report, Sanchez states that the province is experiencing a drought in many areas due to a below-average snowpack in 2022-23 and a dry summer in 2023. Alberta also dealt with above average temperatures and limited autumn moisture last year.
“This meant less runoff filling rivers, lakes, and reservoirs and below average precipitation in most areas during the spring and summer,” states Sanchez’s report.
“Water is central to economic and social development; it is vital to maintain health, grow food and manage the environment. Current water conditions can significantly impair the health, safety, and finances of the Lethbridge Region.
“City Administration is working with the Province of Alberta and regional and local stakeholders to monitor the current circumstances and prepare a plan to mitigate possible consequences.”
Reservoir levels have experienced a significant drop. The Oldman reservoir for instance was at 26 per cent in November compared to 58 per cent in August.
Waterton and Saint Mary reservoir levels are also lower than normal.
On April 11, the Economic Standing Policy Committee of city council will be hearing for its considerations options for programs to incentivize water conservation in Lethbridge.
These could include economic incentives, xeriscaping options for existing public spaces and potential design standards for new development.
The City will be engaging for the next three months with residents, stakeholders, regional partners and industry on the next steps on conservation, states Sanchez’s report.
A water conservation plan and strategy are going to be prepared over the next three months and presented to council for consideration by the second quarter of this year.
According to a PowerPoint presentation the SPC will see Thursday, irrigation districts account for between 97 and 98 per cent of water diverted from rivers. Municipalities, account for between two to three per cent of diverted water.
Basins in critical water shortage condition are province-wide and include the Milk River, Oldman River, South Saskatchewan River, Bow River, Red Deer and North Saskatchewan River basins. Also impacted are tributaries to the Peace, Athabasca and Hay Rivers.
The presentation includes images which show how drastically water levels have fallen.
“The number of Water Management Areas under a water shortage advisory has increased from 31 to 51 across the province, with more than 15 in the Oldman watershed,” says the presentation.
Many water licence holders have concerns about the situation heading into the upcoming spring with some being asked to stop taking water due to low levels with the situation having both economic and community impacts, says the presentation.
The long-range forecast predicts a 62 per cent chance of warm and dry conditions continuing into April-June and a 50-60 per cent chance of above-normal temperatures.