Calgary water restrictions could begin in May as drought looms

Amid growing concerns about drought, the City of Calgary is asking residents to prepare for possible water restrictions starting in May.

In an update on the city’s drought preparedness plan Tuesday morning, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said all Calgarians need to conserve water.

“Our first step is to educate people that we are in a drought,” he said.

“Before we start implementing restrictions or other measures, I truly believe Calgarians will come together and do the right thing.”

The city says Calgary is experiencing drought conditions, with a higher than average risk of the conditions persisting in the coming months.

According to Nicole Newton, the city’s natural environment and adaptation manager, river levels are low and reservoir levels are medium.

Newton said most of the city’s water comes from the mountain snowpack, which typically falls in March, April and May. That means he won’t fully understand the situation until then.

During the preparedness update, the city said it is already washing its cars less, installing more efficient irrigation systems and using humidity monitors to see if trees need to be watered to conserve as much as possible.

If restrictions were implemented in May, they would only cover outdoor water use for things like washing cars and watering lawns and gardens.

The Gardners who shopped at Golden Acre Home and Garden on Tuesday said Calgary’s drought and water shortages are top of mind.

“I don’t plant anything ornamental,” says Tamara Becker.

“If we end up in a curtailment season, we won’t be able to water our lawn. I’m fine with that. I’d rather, you know, let Mother Nature do her thing and if the lawn survives, it survives.”

Golden Acre horticulturist Colin Hayles says there are ways to garden successfully and conserve water at the same time.

“A lot of times, established perennials, established trees, they don’t need the water that we give them. We overdo it,” Hayles said.

“Root feeders and soaker hoses along with a rain barrel are by far the most effective way to save water and money and give your plants the biggest health boost.”

Hayles says Golden Acre brought in its supply of rain barrels months earlier than in previous years and is already having trouble keeping them in stock as Calgarians move toward greater water conservation.

Golden Acre along with the City of Calgary, the Calgary Horticultural Society and Green Calgary will host a water conservation seminar on March 23.

It runs between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Golden Acres Home and Garden on Goddard Road NE

Drought concerns in Alberta

According to the province, many areas are currently facing drought conditions, especially in the southern part of the province.

Alberta is currently in stage 4 (of 5) of its water scarcity management response plan.

Kerry Black, assistant professor and research chair at the University of Calgary, says municipalities need to cooperate and be proactive rather than reactive regarding water use.

“It’s really important that we talk about what we use our water for and why, and whether we use it responsibly and sustainably,” she said.

Black says that as a society, we should examine our water use and consider things like whether we really need to use drinking-quality water for things like flushing the toilet.

While industry and agriculture use a lot of water, Black points out that individuals also play an important role in conservation.

“It doesn’t take long to get up to 200 liters of water a day just by using the water, and that’s without even considering watering the lawn or washing the car, which is something I’ve seen a lot in the summer months.”

Black says people should use the rule of six to easily visualize how much water they’re using: every minute you turn on a tap is six liters, every minute in the shower is six liters, and every toilet flush is another six liters.

If the city implements outdoor water restrictions in May, it will be the second year in a row.

In 2023, restrictions did not come into effect until mid-August.

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