County develops plan to deal with drought, water shortage

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County has finalized a plan to be prepared to respond to a drought or run short of water supply.

At its regular meeting June 26, council adopted a water shortage response plan.

The document was developed after the provincial government ordered municipalities to prepare their own plan for the first time rather than follow a provincial plan.

Reeve Tyler Airth says the local plan is vital.

“It’s important we have our own drought plan,” Airth says.

“We have a different scenario here.”

Concerns of a drought in Alberta remain high, says Kevin Cymbaluk, director of operations.

“Alberta is in an extreme drought situation, currently stage 4 out of 5 of a province-wide emergency level of its water management plan with no encouraging signs of significant rainfall in the near future,” the report summary states.

Environment and Protected Areas (AEP) Minister Rebecca Schulz is continually updating municipalities on the drought situation and asking municipalities to develop and impose a water shortage plan now and start using less water in spring and summer 2024.

Due to the extremely dry conditions, the 2024 plan will be implemented in order to ease the potential of a local water shortage which if needed, would impose further water restrictions or a water ban, the plan states.

Big Lakes’ plan does not include any fines for people who don’t comply with restriction orders, Cymbaluk says at his final council meeting before he retires July 8 after serving the county since Oct. 11, 2022 and ending a career of 39 years.

The plan outlines response various stages.

Step 1 – No watering lawns and no livestock watering.

Step 2 – Limit water consumption to all resident.

Step 3 – Shut down the water truck fill at the Town of High Prairie water plant at the Big Lakes water plant in Enilda.

Step 4 – At this point, Big Lakes would lose all water supply to Big Lakes residents from the High Prairie water system.

Triggers and thresholds were added as council requested at its regular meeting May 22 when the proposed plan was presented by Cymbaluk.

Determining factors to implement the plan will be based upon:

  1. Provincial or federal drought mapping.
  2. Provincial directives.
  3. Local specific conditions such as fires, water system problems, low reservoir, lake or river levels using AEP mapping.
  4. Emerging trends in the area such as algae blooms, dust conditions, extreme heat of more that 40 C or other weather phenomena that contribute to water shortages.
  5. Reservoirs at critical levels as determined by the Town of High Prairie or municipal staff.
  6. Water quality – when the source water reaches 0.30ntu AEP standards, the county would enact boil-water advisories.
  7. For lake-fed systems, if the drought were to reach the point where it affects the county’s ability to draw water, the whole area would face a level 4 event.

“A successful drought resiliency plan requires collaboration, adaptive management and continuous monitoring,” Cymbaluk says.

Ongoing updates of bylaws, emergency response plans and other related documents are required in conjunction with this plan.

Annual reviews are recommended to maintain current requirements and reflect actual conditions, he says.

The Alberta Emergency Management Act, in Section 21, authorizes local authorities to declare a state of local emergency to create a legal state of affairs of a temporary nature so that the local authority may take extraordinary action to deal with an emergency.

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