April 23rd, 2024

Raymond and Magrath on drought alert, but not yet considering rationing


By Lethbridge Herald on March 23, 2024.

Irrigation equipment in a field west of Raymond sprays water on a growing canola crop last summer. Officials in both Raymond and Magrath say they are waiting to determine how they might respond to potential drought conditions. Herald file photo by Al Beeber

Delon Shurtz – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – dshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

With the City of Calgary already warning residents it could enact outdoor water restrictions as early as May, Raymond residents don’t have too much to worry about; yet.

Barring extreme dry conditions or imposed government restrictions, Raymond residents aren’t facing the immediate prospect of water rationing, says the town’s chief administrative officer.

Kurtis Pratt says the town is waiting to see which direction the government goes and what directives may come down the pipe to municipalities, but in the meantime town residents shouldn’t be too concerned about rationing, and it may not become necessary.

“The town is aware of the provincial concern for drought this season, and so the province has asked all municipalities to kind of review what the plans are and be prepared in case it’s needed,” Pratt says.

He says the town’s community services and operational services are reviewing their operations to determine how they can maintain normal operations with reduced water capacity, and the town is also reviewing its water bylaws to determine its legislative responsibility and citizens’ responsibility for voluntary and mandatory restrictions.

While the town tries to plan for directives expected from the province, Pratt says locally the community is in good shape, even if the water level in Milk River Ridge Reservoir drops. The town actually draws its water from Cross Coulee Reservoir, which is lower in elevation than Ridge Reservoir from which it gets its water.

“The Ridge could be lowered to almost nothing, and we will have a significant amount of water still in Cross Coulee.”

Pratt notes only a few irrigators draw water from Cross Coulee, and if Ridge gets too low, all irrigation is shut down, leaving only municipal consumption.

However, regardless of the town’s capacity, if there are restrictions imposed on other water users, Pratt says he will recommend council also impose restrictions and everyone be treated the same since “we’re all in this together.”

The town typically uses between 800,000 and one million cubic metres of potable water a year from the Raymond distribution system, and another 400,000 to 500,000 cubic metres of raw water to irrigate sports fields, the golf course and other large users such as the hospital.

The latest reservoir update from the province on Feb. 26 indicates that water levels in three reservoirs that drain into Raymond are trending below average, and the town continues to monitor its levels and capacities.

Pratt says even though there aren’t any concerns right now about a water shortage in Raymond, the town is “doing all the administrative exploratory work” to determine what the town would do should rationing be necessary.

“The concern is that we’ve had two plus years of excessive heat and it’s sucked out all the moisture in the ground and our reservoirs have never really recovered. Every year we’re kind of a little bit worse off than we were the year before, and we haven’t really been able to catch up.”

Given the small amount of snowfall this winter, reduced snowpack, and the relatively little rainfall annually in southern Alberta, Pratt says it’s not surprising water levels are low and the land is dry.

“We’re expecting there to be challenges, but from a Raymond perspective, actually having the capacity and volume to produce water, that’s not an issue right now and we don’t foresee it to be an issue in the near future. Our main concern will be if the province dictates something bigger needs to happen then we’ll have to comply and follow along even if we’re not necessarily needing to because we might be in a better position than others. If restrictions come in any way, shape or form, we feel it’s going to be because it’s been provincially driven based on the overall narrative versus our need to do it because of our lack of capacity.”

Only a few kilometres southwest of Raymond, the Town of Magrath is in similar circumstances. Town council is acutely aware of the possibility of water rationing this year, but until it hears what Alberta Environment and the Magrath Irrigation District are planning, it’s a game of wait and see.

“Council hasn’t made any decisions for what our future looks like in the short term,” says CAO James Suffredine.

“In the small scheme of things, our water use is not a huge factor compared to some of the agriculture uses.”

The town relies on two sources for water; the Jensen Reservoir for potable water, and the St. Mary Reservoir for irrigation water, which is available to every parcel of land in town and used to water lawns and gardens. Last year the town used a total of 908,557 cubic metres of potable and non-potable water.

Suffredine says the Jensen Reservoir is currently about half full, but because Magrath is basically the only user of potable water from that source, there should be plenty of water for residents.

Suffredine notes the town has not implemented water restrictions in the recent past, but last year the irrigation system was shut down early. While that wasn’t considered rationing, the reduced flow in the canal meant the town’s pumping system could not operate at the same level, so the town turned it off to prevent any damage.

“If you could call that rationing, it was cold turkey.”

Suffredine says once the town knows what its water allocations will be, council will be able to determine whether water restrictions will be necessary. He recalls the town implemented rationing many years ago and introduced alternate days, but it didn’t help conserve water.

“There’s a belief that we used more water that year than we did normally, because one of the things that happens on alternate days, guess what people do? They follow the schedule whether they need to or not.”

Residents, Suffredine suggests, understand that water restrictions may be necessary and that there could be problems if everyone isn’t on board.

“I think we’re ready to do our part.

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