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Study suggests retreating glaciers could impact Alberta municipal water supplies

Click to play video 'The impact of melting glaciers on Alberta’s water supply' The impact of melting glaciers on Alberta’s water supply
WATCH: Climate change is continuing to impact the Canadian landscape, as glaciers continue to shrink due to the effects of rising surface temperatures. Jordan Armstrong explains why that will also lead to major problems for Alberta's drinking water supply and the vulnerable communities that need it.

A new Canadian study identified four Alberta communities as being vulnerable to the loss of glaciers, especially as it relates to their drinking water.

Sam Anderson, a PhD candidate in Geophysics (Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences) at the University of British Columbia, said the towns of Hinton, Rocky Mountain House and Lake Louise are most likely to be impacted by retreating glaciers, along with the Bighorn Dam, which forms the province’s largest reservoir, Abraham Lake.

In Lake Louise, municipal water is sourced from the Bow River. Anderson said water levels there will decrease, particularly in August.

“What the tourists will be seeing, when they look at those mountains, is mountains that have less snow, less ice cover.”

It’s that image that prompted his work.

“I was looking at images of how the glaciers in the Rockies had changed over the past 100 years and it was really surprising to see how much ice had already been lost,” Anderson said.

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Read more: Earth’s glaciers are melting much faster than scientists thought: study

Knowing the ice will continue to melt, he wanted to determine what that could mean for the people of Alberta.

“While not everybody loves the snow, it’s really useful for our water supply,” he explained.

“We investigated nearly 600 communities and locations throughout the province and, at the end of the day, we found there were four which were the most vulnerable.”

Click to play video 'Three BC friends make film about receding glaciers' Three BC friends make film about receding glaciers
Three BC friends make film about receding glaciers

He said the study narrowed the scope of further research, presenting both cost and time savings as efforts can be focused on these four areas.

Read more: Earth’s warmer, watery future being written in fast-melting Greenland

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Anderson believes now researchers should be looking more closely at what the timelines of water loss will be and what policies might help manage the water levels.

“In the future, we expect that we will largely not have these glaciers by 2100,” he said.

“I think that the recognition of this as a serious problem is growing and growing.”

Anderson said surprisingly, places like Jasper, Banff and Canmore – which are located next to glacier fed rivers — actually don’t get their municipal water from those sources.

“These communities will be able to see those glaciers disappear, but they won’t feel the effects as severely in terms of their water supply.”