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Heavy rains lifting drought concerns for city, local farmers

After weeks of drizzly weather, the City of Calgary says it’s not planning to introduce any outdoor water restrictions for the month of June. 

The city warned residents in March that drought conditions could force outdoor water restrictions as early as May.

Conditions have since changed and concerns over the potential for severe drought impacts are easing in southern Alberta.  

In 2023, restrictions did not come into effect until August and lasted until October.

Environment Canada has recorded more than 45 millimetres of precipitation at the Calgary International Airport this month.  

“Our reservoirs are trending normal … overall, the forecast for the precipitation is looking positive,” said Nicole Newton, the city’s manager of natural environment and adaptation.

“We still continue to be prepared. Calgary is prone to drought conditions developing later this summer.”

The City of Calgary is still asking residents to voluntarily reduce their water usage. 

‘No concerns about water supply’

On Thursday, the Waterton reservoir was at about 67 per cent of its full capacity, up from 54 per cent on May 16. 

The St. Mary reservoir was at 68 per cent, up from 58 per cent a week ago. 

The Pine Coulee and Oldman reservoirs also saw double-digit per cent storage bumps. 

There are 19 water shortage advisories in place for water management areas around the province — down from 22 on May 15. 

Bow River Irrigation District general manager Richard Phillips said producers in his district will probably receive more than the 16-inch per acre water allocation that was originally estimated. 

“Reservoirs at this point are basically full now �… soil moisture is incredibly high,” he said. “There’s no concerns about water supply.”

Phillips said the wet weather has delayed seeding for some farmers. 

“Normally everything would be in the ground by now. There’s still some fields that haven’t been planted,” he said. 

Alberta Grains region three director Stewart Oke said he’s seeing strong growing conditions on his land east of Red Deer. 

He said he’s been hearing good things from other grain producers in southern Alberta. 

“We’d like to see a little bit of heat, maybe warm up the ground a bit. But all in all, moisture is always a welcome thing for a producer,” he said. 

So far in May, Environment Canada has recorded more than 89 millimetres of precipitation at a station in Lethbridge.

Calgary moving ahead with permanent watering schedule

Despite recent rains, the City of Calgary is moving forward with plans to change the water utility bylaw to manage long-term drought risk. 

Newton said the change would mean structured times in which outdoor watering is permitted and guidance on what types of watering are permitted under specific circumstances. 

A field of wheat is pictured near Cremona, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Statistics Canada says Canadian farmers are on track to produce a better crop this year than they did in 2021.
Alberta Grains director Stewart Oke said producers in southern Alberta are welcoming the added moisture. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

“This change is to proactively reduce our water use, raise awareness around efficient watering practices as well as making water conservation a normal part of everyday life for Calgarians,” she said.

The watering schedule would apply to both residents and businesses, according to Newton. 

The details of the proposed change will be presented to city council in June, she said. 

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