Addressing water management in southern Alberta: ‘We will have more droughts’

Click to play video: 'Experts address water management following year of drought conditions' Experts address water management following year of drought conditions
Whether it be for bathing, drinking, or irrigating, every southern Alberta resident uses water in some way or another. Eloise Therien has more on the discussions being had by experts about all things water management – Jan 20, 2022

The topic of water management was highlighted on Thursday, as the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs held a live forum on featuring researcher Dr. Dena McMartin.

McMartin, who joined the University of Lethbridge in the summer of 2021, is a leading researcher focused on rural, agricultural and industrial water resource management and treatment, as well as impacts of freshwater climate extremes on communities and economies.

Topics discussed Thursday included historical water management, interprovincial water sharing, importance to First Nations communities, and work being done to retain water supply.

“One of the interesting things we’ve started to see in California irrigation systems is the use of solar panel canal covers,” McMartin said.

“I think that would be a really interesting way of conserving resources by reducing evaporation rates coming out of the large canal systems, while also producing some green energy.”

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Read more: Oldman River’s low water levels adding stress to ecosystem: experts

The City of Lethbridge gets its water from the Oldman River, which is processed at the water treatment plant.

“We want people to know where your water comes from, and that the cycle, the timing is changing.”

She explained the importance of public awareness when it comes to water sustainability.

“We will have more floods. We will have more droughts. We’re going to have to be proactive in determining what kind of storage systems we need, what kind of flood protections we need, and what kind of investment we’re willing to make as individual citizens to protect, preserve, conserve and manage our water most effectively.”

Read more: Alberta hopes to attract investment through irrigation expansion projects

Shannon Frank, the executive director of the Oldman Watershed Council, said this past year saw extreme conditions that are a cause for concern, especially when it comes to irrigation.

“It’s very challenging when you have a limited supply, and you have high demand,” Frank said.

“We had quite a few creeks and springs that dried up this year, and I’ve never seen this many in the 12 years that I’ve been here.”

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Click to play video: 'Invasive fish found in Lethbridge ponds' Invasive fish found in Lethbridge ponds
Invasive fish found in Lethbridge ponds – Oct 27, 2021

While major decisions affecting water supply aren’t in the scope of any one individual, Frank said there are things urban residents can do to help protect it.

“One of the best things we can do is pick up our pet waste regularly, conserve water, conserve pesticides — use them sparingly — and in that way we can really help protect the quality of the storm water,” she explained.

Read more: Alberta moving forward on 2 new plans to maintain river water quality

Frank said organizations like the Oldman Watershed Council are looking forward to a new Water for Life action plan being funded by the Alberta government, which will help guide water management for the next ten years.

“Southern Alberta water users are some of the most efficient water users in the world,” McMartin added.

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“Some of the technologies we have, the way that they’ve been implemented, the designs we have are exceptional.”

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