Over thirty of the largest water licensees in southern Alberta have pledged to voluntarily reduce their consumption as part of their water-sharing initiative. They aim to mitigate the impact of potentially severe drought conditions this year.

The agreement, announced last Friday, encompasses municipalities, irrigation districts, and various industry stakeholders. They span the sub-basins of the Red Deer River, the Bow River, the Oldman River mainstem, and its upper tributaries, establishing the most extensive water conservation pact in the region since 2001.

Rebecca Schulz, the provincial environment minister, praised the collaborative effort at a press conference. She underscored that Albertans have come together to forge these agreements, demonstrating a united front in managing potential water shortages.

Specific Reduction Measures

The pact outlines specific measures: municipalities are set to cut outdoor water usage by 5-10% as needed, without impacting indoor water use. Industries have vowed to limit their water consumption to the minimum required for safe operations. Meanwhile, irrigation districts have agreed to allocate water primarily to other users, utilizing the remainder for licensed purposes only.

The effectiveness of these agreements hinges on upcoming snowpack evaluations, with biweekly reassessments of water levels starting in May. The agreements currently involve 38 licensees, which account for 90% of the water in the Bow and Oldman basins and 70% in the Red Deer River basin.

The water-sharing strategy forces farmers in Alberta to make tough decisions about crop allocations. With water allocations approximately half of the usual levels, there is a shift towards cultivating high-value crops such as potatoes and sugar beets over grains, according to Alex Ostrop from the Alberta Irrigation Districts Association.

This agreement marks a pivotal moment in Alberta’s response to environmental challenges, showcasing a strong commitment to sustainable agriculture and water conservation. As the region navigates the complexities of climate change, the actions taken today are vital for securing a resilient and prosperous future for Alberta’s farming industry.