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March 1, 2024 March 1, 2024

Province warns municipalities to brace for further drought

Posted on February 1, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance

By Heather Cameron
Vauxhall Advance
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

During the M.D. of Taber Council Meeting on January 9, Arlos Crofts, Chief Administrator for the M.D. of Taber, read a letter penned by Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, about how there is potential for significant drought and the implications that will have on the agriculture industry and communities if a drought comes to pass. 

“Alberta is currently in a significant drought,” said Minister Schulz’s letter. “During summer 2023, several water basins reached critical drought conditions due to low rainfall and high temperatures. The world is also experiencing El Niño, a global phenomenon occurring for the first time in seven years. It’s causing less snow and rain, along with higher temperatures, heightening the potential for significant drought into spring and summer 2024, particularly in southern Alberta.”

According to Minister Schulz’s letter, Alberta has five stages in its water management plan ranging from Stage 1, which is a minor drought, to Stage 5, which is a province-wide emergency. Alberta is currently in Stage 4. 

The Government of Alberta, Minister Schulz’s letter says, 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 Minister Schulz’s letter. 

Alberta has stood up a Drought Command Team in the event of an emergency and an early first draft of a 2024 Drought Emergency Plan has been completed and is now being refined. 

“We have also initiated drought modelling work that will allow the province to determine how to maximize the province’s water supply,” states the letter. “Alberta is considering a wide range of tools and approaches to respond to an emergency situation, including both regulatory and non-regulatory tools. The province will also be striking an advisory panel of leaders to help provide advice in the months ahead. And we are preparing for the future, looking at what long-term infrastructure is needed to help manage water supplies for future generations.”

Minister Schultz’s letter was clear, however, in stating that municipal action is also needed and in order to be fully prepared for a severe drought, municipal leaders throughout Alberta will need to take the following action in the coming months: 

1) Initiate efforts to monitor water supply infrastructure proactively, paying particular attention to water intake relative to water levels. 

2) Begin a review of the terms of your municipality’s water licence so you are aware of any conditions that may limit your ability to withdraw water during a drought. 

3) Alert municipal water managers to prepare to be engaged with officials from the Drought Command Team, should conditions within your municipal water licence need to be triggered. 

4) Develop a water shortage plan so your municipality is prepared to respond if water availability decreases. 

“We are asking all water users to start planning now to use less water in 2024,” stated Schultz’s letter. “We are committed to providing information and supporting any additional conservation efforts that your municipality may adopt in the future. Stay up-to-date on precipitation and water levels through the Alberta Rivers app or the Alberta River Basins web page at rivers.alberta.ca. To learn more about the impacts of drought on communities and the principles for sound water management, please visit alberta.ca/drought. Environment and Protected Area would like to hear from your water management staff on perceived risks of drought in 2024, what impacts it could have on your operations, and how your municipality plans to mitigate risks. To connect with our team, please email epa.drought@gov.ab.ca. Alberta has navigated many droughts before and has a long, proud history of coming together during tough times. I know we can count on our municipal partners to work together in the face of adversity.”

Crofts stated that Administration is likewise working on some water shortage planning documents for not only the M.D. of Taber, but the two water commissions for which they manage. Those documents, Crofts says, will be brought to the water commissions early in the new year and Administration is currently seeking some feedback on said documents from Environment and Parks.

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