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Coutts and Milk River implement water restrictions amid supply concerns

Click to play video: 'Coutts and Milk River implement water restrictions amid water shortage in the Milk River' Coutts and Milk River implement water restrictions amid water shortage in the Milk River
Crews on the U.S side of the border are working on getting water flowing into the Milk River after a failure to a water diversion structure. As Quinn Campbell reports, communities depending on its supply are now having to cut back on water use – Jul 21, 2020

Crews are no longer able to pump enough water from the Milk River to keep up with demand in two southern Alberta municipalities.

The Town of Milk River and the Village of Coutts share their water supply.

“We’ve been unable to draw from the river anymore,” said Jim Willett, the mayor of Coutts. “We were up until as early as the first week or so of July. We were able to keep our reservoir full.

“Now that water’s not there and the reservoirs are starting to drop.”

Read more: Alberta’s border communities fear water shortage after Milk River collapse in U.S.

Water restrictions on non-essential use are a ripple effect of the catastrophic failure of a water diversion system in Montana that brings water from the St. Mary River into the Milk River, leaving the Milk River extremely low.

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“The reason we are going to Level 2 of water restrictions is because they are no longer pumping above one cubic metre per second,” said Peggy Losey, the mayor of Milk River. “They had to slow it right down because of the silt.”

The failure happened at what’s known as Drop 5. Repairs were also needed at Drop 2, massive concrete structures just across the border that supply water to communities, farms and ranches on both sides of the border.

“The political situation in the [United] States, being an election year, everybody is trying to make some points and get some financing going,” Willett said. “It’s been declared an emergency by the federal government, so there was some funds that were able to flow that way.”

Read more: Village of Coutts expected to feel impact of new Canada-U.S. border restrictions due to COVID-19

Repairs are moving forward with supplies being brought in from Canada to the remote locations, but heavy rain in the area has caused some delays.

Losey said a third drop has also been flagged as a concern.

“When they pumped the water out of the No. 1 drop, they found that there is some exposed rebar and the cement is cracked, so they don’t know if they are going to do it,” she said. “They have yet to decide if they are going to do that right now while they are doing the other two drops.”

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The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is hoping to have repairs to at least drops 2 and 5 done by September.

Losey said the water supply should hold for another three to four months if people follow the water restrictions that have been put in place.

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