May 21st, 2024

Province announces major water sharing agreement

By Lethbridge Herald on April 19, 2024.

A jogger makes his way up a path early Friday evening in the cityÕs river valley as the waters of the Oldman flow over the weir in the background. Herald photo by Ian Martens

Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – LETHBRIDGE HERALD –

The minister of environment and protected areas has announced the largest water-sharing agreement in the province to respond to severe drought conditions. 

Rebecca Schulz said Friday during a news conference from Calgary that even though snow and rain have improved moisture conditions slightly in the last couple months, the snow in the mountains and water levels in reservoirs are still low, and if this spring is hot and dry, there could be severe droughts in parts of the province. 

“As early as last fall we knew that Alberta could face a significant drought this year,” Schulz said. “We also knew that in 2001 water sharing agreements between irrigators and others helped the province get through a major drought, that is why we launched the new water sharing discussions in February of this year.” 

Schulz said as a result of countless hours of dialogue, new memorandums of understanding (MOU) have been developed for the Bow River basin, the Red Deer River basin, the Oldman River basin and the upper tributaries of the Oldman River basin. 

“The biggest and oldest water license users in each basin came together to voluntarily agree to reduce the water use if severe drought conditions do, in fact, develop this summer.” 

The agreements will only be implemented or activated if they are needed and they will be regularly adjusted as drought conditions change. 

Schulz said the agreements are designed to be proactive, agile and flexible enough to be adjusted in real time as conditions change. 

“Specific commitments are laid out in each one of the MOU’s which are designed for the water users in that specific area. However, generally speaking, municipalities in these basins have agreed to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by five to 10 per cent. The exact amount will vary by community and, of course, on drought conditions as they change.” 

The drought emergency response plan will be released next week, and the government says because of the water-sharing agreements, communities will have the water they need to drink, fight wildfires and ensure farmers and ranchers can help feed the province. 

According to the Government of Alberta website, four MOUs have been established among the major water users of the South Saskatchewan River basin to cover the four sub-basins. One of them is the MOU for the Oldman South Saskatchewan River basin, which includes the City of Lethbridge, City of Medicine Hat, County of Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District. 

Within this specific MOU the parties have agreed to implement drought response plans that will represent savings of 10 per cent compared to expected 2024 summer demands if no measures were taken. These will be implemented by Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge County if needed. 

Once the other system demands have been accounted for, including municipal use, First Nations use, and industrial use, the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District will use the remaining water within its licenced allocation, while considering other water users supplied by the irrigation district under its own licence. The irrigation district board will decide how the volumes will be allocated. 

The MOU only applies between April 1 and Dec. 31 of this year; after that the MOU will no longer be in effect. 

“The City of Lethbridge thanks the province for spearheading these water-sharing agreements,” Mayor Blaine Hyggen said in a news release. “The agreements are the culmination of time, effort and collaboration between many stakeholders. The City of Lethbridge is proud to be involved in this important work. We will continue working with our regional water partners and the province to ensure this vital resource is used efficiently and responsibly.”

During the news conference Friday, Schulz was asked why it took more than two decades to talk about the issue again, and she said the conversations were sparked by trying to find ways to prevent the province from reaching a stage five water emergency. 

“Right now we’re in stage four still, and I know a couple of months ago there was some folks in the media saying why are we not declared an emergency yet, and it’s because we’re not in an emergency situation,” said Schulz. 

She said the province is fortunate to have water users who are willing to come together to find ways to reduce their water usage for the benefit of others. However, they need to have a more conversations about how they can maximize the water resources in Alberta. 

“That’s exactly what the premier has asked me to do and it’s why we put the water advisory panel in place, not only to get us through the next couple of months, but to take a look at the bigger picture.” 

That includes water management, storage capacity and making sure each municipality does not pass more than their share of water on to other jurisdictions. 

Schulz pointed out the agreements also consider the minimum amount of water flow needed to protect aquatic species. 

“That’s absolutely something that’s been taken into consideration. I would also say there might be a little bit more information on that next week when we roll out our drought emergency response plan, in terms of what it would take or what it would look like for cabinet to actually declare a stage five emergency and how we would then prioritize water uses and each reason as a result of that.”

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Southern Albertan

Too little too late?
“Alberta’s Brutal Water Reckoning. Scientists who studied the region’s arid past warned this drought was coming. Thirst for growth won out. A Tyee special report.”
Before The Tyee is dissed, award winning journalists/authors contribute to it, and merit is due to independent journalism such as this who call issues as they are, away from mainstream media.
Quote from article:
“To a water expert, looking ahead is like the view from a locomotive, 10 seconds before the train wreck.”—“The late scientist David Schindler on Alberta’s looming crisis.”
This water crisis has the potential to generate $billions in damages, thus, affecting every other area in Alberta where money is directed to be greatly, and negatively, affected whether it be health care, education, infrastructure….literally funding everywhere. And we have 100s of thousands of folks coming to Alberta, all needing water. What will it take for this urgent water crisis to register? When folks cannot take their daily shower?
And then we have the Smith/Parker UCP/TBA more focused on bucking funding from the feds, while the money goes elsewhere across the country….pound foolishness and childishness. Will the Smith/Parker UCP/TBA take funding from the feds for the coming damages of this water disaster?


So just like the thirties only this time it’s Smith’s fault for not taking funds from the rain man in Ottawa. Palliser was right. No one should live in his triangle. We are the basket due to irrigation, live with it.

Last edited 1 month ago by buckwheat

So why is Smith refusing rain? Hmmm? She can’t seem to get along with anyone, even a cloud.


you should rally the troops and get a rain dance going.

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