April 19th, 2024

Water situation could be dire without more precipitation


By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on March 12, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber The steel beams of the High Level Bridge are etched as shadows onto the ice of the Oldman River. The water situation in Alberta could be dire this year unless there is more precipitation

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Lethbridge residents may be asked to voluntarily begin conserving water this spring.

Director of Infrastructure Services Joel Sanchez told the Assets and Infrastructure Standing Policy Committee of Lethbridge city council last week that water levels in the Oldman and St. Mary River reservoirs remain well below normal and the provincial outlook suggests circumstances will be dire if precipitation doesn’t increase.

Three working groups are working on the details that will presented to Assets and Infrastructure and Economic and Finance SPCs in terms of a city water conservation plan and strategy being developed, Sanchez said.

One group is working on a water rationing plan which will be implemented in case the city goes to different phases of rationing which will depend on the outlook and forecast being prepared by the province of Alberta.

Another group is working with stakeholders across the province including irrigation districts – which hold the majority of water licences – on items such as water sharing agreements in case the situation arises where there isn’t enough water in rivers to meet demands of all stakeholders.

Agreements are being done in three separate areas of the province with stakeholders providing needs and requirements.

Sanchez said the province has retained a consultant to do a modelling of the current situation, measuring snowpack levels in different areas and reservoirs.

“I can tell you today the provincial outlook has not changed since the last update that I did. Unless we get some substantial moisture and precipitation, the circumstances are dire,” said Sanchez.

Levels in reservoirs and the snowpack are still below the average of the last 10-15 years, he added.

The runoff forecast for the Milk River basin “is much below the average. Consistently the same is happening for the Oldman River,” he added.

Latest reports from mid February on snow accumulation show in the Oldman River basis are much below average ranging from 33 per cent to 76 per cent of normal conditions in previous years.

The temperature forecast released by the province last week call for above normal temperatures through April, he added, with El Nino bringing warm weather which is contributing to some of the current water issues.

The water level in the Oldman River is 30 per cent, which is higher than in his last presentation when it was 26 per cent, but Sanchez said the level is still far below the 61 to 80 per cent level that is typical for this time of year.

The St. Mary reservoir was in single digits during his last update at around seven per cent but the level has increased to about 19 per cent of capacity. The normal level is typically between 50 and 75 per cent at this time of year.

“So we are really below average there, too.”

The City expects when it comes back in April with its updated conservation strategy and plan it might need to be enacting voluntary measures “in order to encourage residents and the public to start using less water from the get-go. And the team is working on different ideas and plans, initiatives that will be presented to Assets and Infrastructure” to be recommended to council, he said.

Some initiatives could include incentive programs for residents to work on xeriscaping or replacing fixtures to reduce water consumption and will include economic measures, he said.

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