Another southern Alberta summer has produced drought-like conditions in many parts of the province.
“In a kind of perverse way, it’s an old norm in the sense that southern Alberta particularly has always been dry,” University of Calgary environmental design professor Mary-Ellen Tyler said.
Tyler told The Morning News on 770 CHQR that Calgary and southern Alberta have always been a semi-arid and dry climate, always on the edge of drought due to the historic and geographic challenges to moisture in the area.
Tyler said that shifts in precipitation, and changing weather and climate patterns, put citizens living in southern Alberta in a more difficult position than what was already presented by the historically dry conditions. And the effects are not just being felt on land.
LISTEN: U of C researcher Mary-Ellen Tyler joins Gord and Sue on The Morning News to discuss southern Alberta droughts
“The other dilemma with that is that the drought not only affects the landscape, but it affects water because it will affect streamflow. We’re not getting enough water for plant growth, we’re not getting enough water to keep aquatic ecosystems functioning.
“It’s really a double-barreled, land-water combination that we’re beginning to see massive stress on and that starts to affect both the quality and quantity of both the terrestrial and aquatic environment.”
Tyler explained dryness is affecting more than just grass lawns, tree foliage and stream levels — it’s hitting Albertans in the pocketbooks.
“Indirectly, it’s affecting the provincial economy because agriculture is such a significant sector of our provincial economy. But it’s also affecting urbanites because it’s affecting our infrastructure systems: our storm water management systems, our water systems that we depend on in terms of domestic consumption and commercial use.
“And we don’t, I think, sometimes associate our infrastructure, which we invest millions if not billions of dollars in, as having to do with climate, but it’s very much there to protect us and adjust to managing storm runoff, managing sewer water, managing domestic water for urban dwellers.”
Droughts in B.C. have been attributed as contributing factors to the increased size and numbers wildfires in that province this year, and the resulting smoke in the prairies.
Tyler said we can’t turn a blind eye to the dry conditions that increase year after year.
“If you think of these as one-offs, then maybe you don’t worry about it. But if we begin to see these as a little bit more constant and these extremes becoming a little bit more normal, then we need to begin — and I think this is the point of my research — to try and look at what are the ways we’ve got to manage land both in the urban and rural context, and look at infrastructure in an urban and rural context that helps us adapt and be more resistant to those extremes.
“But the cost of adaptation and the investment in how we adapt is going to affect us, again, from a financial point of view. But not doing anything is going to affect us from a financial point of view.”
Recognizing the efforts of municipalities to address water conservation, Tyler says, with Calgary’s steady growth, “we’re over-commit in our water licenses.
“So we may have to go back and make some institutional changes in terms of water co-ops and how far can you be efficient before you just don’t have anything more to be efficient with.
“It has real significant land-use planning and economic development implications, as well as simply day-to-day use of water.”