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Southern Alberta reservoirs see water levels rise, dry summer still possible

The wet start to the spring has caused water levels to rise in reservoirs throughout southern Alberta.

While experts say we aren’t out of the woods yet when it comes to a potential drought, the recent rain is making a big difference.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Lethbridge has received nearly 90 millimeters of rain so far this month.

“It definitely helps,” said Mark Svenson, environment manager with the City of Lethbridge.

“The outlook right now is better than it was a few months ago when the reservoir levels were much lower. It is a blessing that we’ve seen this moisture.”

As of Wednesday, the Oldman River reservoir was sitting at 62 per cent, up from 40 per cent two weeks ago.

The normal level is around 75 per cent.

Both the St. Mary reservoir and Waterton reservoir are at more than 60 per cent, but still below the normal level of 70 to 83 per cent.

“The province right now is trying to capture every drop that they can in the reservoir, which is why we’ve seen the increase,” Svenson said.

“The province is only releasing the water that is necessary to meet the requirements for the river and the users down stream.”

Brian Proctor, a meteorologist for ECCC, says there has been more rainfall than usual in Lethbridge, which received moisture on 11 out of 22 days this month.

“On average, for the month of May in Lethbridge, we see about 50 to 55mm, so we’re already above what we would normally see in a whole month of May, and it’s building on what we saw in the months of March and April.”

That rain is proving beneficial to farmers after a dry winter. 

Retired geography and environment professor Stefan Kienzle says moisture levels across Alberta are “above normal,” but warns people shouldn’t get their hopes up just yet.

“We are not out of the drought conditions completely,” he cautioned.

“The snow pack melted out earlier altogether than in normal years, and that means, typically, that there is not enough moisture in the mountains to support streams and rivers in the late summer.”

Earlier this month, the city announced it was cutting water usage within city departments by 10 per cent this summer, with a goal to reduce overall water consumption by 20 per cent by 2030.

The city and Lethbridge County have both launched webpages to keep residents up to date with the latest water information, ongoing conservation strategies and any restrictions in place.

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