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Coaldale council discusses drought measures

Posted on February 26, 2024 by Sunny South News

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

A minister’s letter has Coaldale town council considering how to protect the town during drought conditions.

The letter, discussed during the Feb. 5 Committee of the Whole, cautioned municipalities about the need to act and start planning to use less water in 2024.

According to the province, many areas in Alberta are dealing with drought conditions, particularly in the southern part of the province. In her letter, sent to municipal leaders before the winter holidays, Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, attributes this to several water basins reaching critical drought conditions due to low rainfall and high temperatures last summer, along with the world experiencing El Niño, a climate phenomenon causing less snow and rain with higher temperatures.

Environment and Protected Areas (EPA) lists five stages for managing through water shortage: Stage 1, Monitoring and Observation, where water availability trend is a concern; Stage 2, Active management begins, where water shortages are predicted to occur; Stage 3, Priority call, where calls are assessed and administration based on priority; Stage 4, Multiple water management areas, where there is a large scale water shortage; and Stage 5, Declare an emergency under the Water Act, and emergency measures are needed.

Alberta is currently in Stage 4 of its water shortage management response plan. Without sufficient precipitation, the province faces the risk of a significant drought in 2024. Alberta’s government is monitoring conditions and working closely with water users and local governments to help manage and conserve water where possible.

“The Government of Alberta is closely monitoring the situation and working to be prepared in case the province faces a similar – or worse – drought next year. Staff from Environment and Protected Areas, along with Agriculture and Irrigation, are working with water licence holders, major water users, and other partners to develop water conservation plans and water-sharing agreements,” said Schulz in the letter.

The province implemented measures such as organizing a Drought Command Team, creating a first draft of a 2024 Drought Emergency Plan, initiating drought modelling work and started an advisory panel. Schulz requested that municipalities undertake the following four actions in the coming months:  

• Begin monitoring water supply infrastructure proactively, with a focus on water intake relative to water levels. 

• Begin a review of their water licence’s terms so they are aware of any conditions that may limit their ability to withdraw water during a drought.

• Alert municipal water managers to be prepare work with officials from the Drought Command Team, should conditions within their municipal water licence need to be triggered.

• Develop a water shortage plan so they are prepared to respond if water availability decreases.

“We are asking all water users to start planning now to use less water in 2024. We are committed to providing information and supporting any additional conservation efforts that your municipality may adopt in the future.”

In response to the letter, the City of Lethbridge had passed a motion during its Jan. 23 council meeting to direct administration to work in partnership with the province and regional partners on proactive measures to address current water supply concerns, and to prepare options on programs to incentivize water conservation including, but not limited to economic incentives, xeriscaping options for existing public spaces, and potential changes to design standards for new developments.

Since Coaldale’s water supply comes from Lethbridge, the town will need to abide by the same water conservation and/or restrictions that were implemented by the city. 

However, Coaldale council considered adopting their own additional water conversation and restriction measures and/or incentives during their meeting, based on the severity of the situation and to better protect Coaldale’s long-term growth horizon.

“As of right now, it’s looking like this summer is going to be an exceptionally dry one,” said Coaldale Mayor Jack Van Rijn in a press release. “A number of water basins are experiencing critical water shortages due to low rainfall and high temperatures last summer – including the Oldman River basin, which is where Coaldale’s water supply ultimately comes from. And so, in the spirit of provincial and regional cooperation we thought it would be a good idea to get ahead of this now and signal our support for the City’s forthcoming water conservation plan. At the same time, we see this as an opportunity to start discussing what, if anything, the Town of Coaldale can or should do to supplement those measures. At the end of the day, the amount of water we use also has long term growth horizon implications for the Town. The fact is that when we use less water, we stand to expand our growth horizon, and so if there are ways to make sure we’re using water more efficiently as a community, we want to consider those as well.”

For more information and news on drought updates in Alberta, visit https://www.alberta.ca/drought-current-conditions.

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