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Tag: Water Crisis

Dried Up, What Now? attracts engaged local audience

A locally filmed 30-minute documentary that hones in on the region’s ongoing water crisis offered up its first two viewings last Saturday in Lundbreck and Pincher Creek.

Dried Up, What Now? features close to two dozen voices, including those of residents, scientists, the environmental community and local government, on the current state of the Oldman River Reservoir both upstream and downstream.

While not meant to be politically charged, the Livingstone Landowners Group says it’s a story that needs to be told “to help raise awareness of the impact of declining water levels in the region and spur discussion on solutions.”

The film, part of a trilogy, follows Finding Water and Running Dry by producers Yvan Lebel, who resides in Saskatchewan, and Kevin Van Tighem of Lethbridge, a well-known naturalist and author.

“I’ve been concerned about headwaters health for years,” said Van Tighem, when asked why he became involved in the first venture some five years ago.

“When I retired, I decided to write a book, Headwaters of the Bow River, and what each different creek has to tell us in terms of a story. The more I got into that, the more I woke up to the fact that we just don’t understand that our land-use decisions are actually water-management decisions and we are not always making the best water commitment decisions.”

He added that the province’s population is growing yet its water supply is not improving.

 

Ad for Blinds and More in Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass

 

Like the Livingstone Landowners Group, Lebel doesn’t necessarily see this film, or the others, as political statements.

“The message is just to warn us to be aware and, in a sense, to invite people to do something,” he said before the second showing of the documentary, at the Vertical Church in Pincher Creek.

“We’re giving the facts. We’re showing what is happening and bringing some solutions. The goal is more to educate people. No ranting. No accusing anyone of anything.”

That sentiment is shared by Bobbi Lambright, communications co-ordinator for the Livingstone Landowners Group.

“We try to be a very fact-based organization. So, when it comes to issues and concerns, we like to do our homework. We want to make sure we have the correct information,” she told Shootin’ the Breeze.

“As this became a major issue, we felt it was worthwhile documenting it and getting some insight.”

In one instance, the film shows the rings of a large tree, which indicate both historical long periods of drought and stretches of high-water flows.

Aerial footage of sections of the reservoir as they looked in 2019 versus bone-dry river beds from last year is also featured during the production.

While those behind the project say they aren’t finger-pointing, Van Tighem, like most, is concerned about what the coming summer will bring, checking the snowpack as recently as last Saturday.

“We’re still about 25 per cent below normal. We have less snow storage in the headwaters than we had last year and last year was a disaster … we had an early thaw,” he said.

“We get an early thaw this year, with that lousy snowpack, it makes our message that much more critical because we don’t want to waste a single bit of water when there’s so little to begin with.”

“Our landscape is leaking like a sieve,” he said. “We gotta get it fixed.”

 

 

Ad for Vape in Pincher Creek

 

Three white envelopes blow in the wind in front of an open grey mailbox

Alberta’s water crisis is just beginning

In the past week, Albertans have been confronted with a triple whammy of water crises.

On Feb. 20, the Government of Alberta declared the start of wildfire season, 10 days earlier than the usual March 1 start due to this season’s warm temperatures, which have been compounded by the fact that large parts of Alberta are under severe or extreme drought.

On Feb. 23, the Crowsnest River in southern Alberta was reported to have run dry upstream of Cowley. (The claim was later disputed, with the halted water flow being blamed on ice buildup.) The Crowsnest River is a tributary to the Old Man, which has seen record-low river levels and extremely low reservoir levels this year.

While many Albertans were astonished by these two announcements, the Alberta Energy Regulator also announced in an internal letter that it had accepted initial applications and is open to public hearings for the controversial Grassy Mountain coal mine on the Eastern Slopes, a project which has already been turned down twice. An application for a water diversion licence has been submitted to AER.

What does the potential coal mine have to do with water? Coal mines use 250 litres of fresh water and about 750 litres of recycled water per tonne of coal produced. According to estimates, Grassy Mountain will divert 1.125 billion litres of fresh water per year from the Old Man watershed.

Though they appeared as separate stories, this past week’s news demonstrates the interrelatedness of our crises. Alberta is experiencing a critical water shortage, and action is needed immediately.

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

We need a new holistic approach to water in this province that looks at the cumulative impacts and interconnections between water usage and water shortage. This holistic approach also needs to consider the role of climate change in driving both increased water usage and drought.

The Government of Alberta has taken some steps to tackling our water crisis by creating a new drought advisory committee earlier this month. This committee, however, poorly represents the diversity of stakeholders and communities impacted by drought. Specifically, it does not include the communities most impacted. Alarmingly, this committee does not include water and/or drought researchers. 

The lack of scientists is troubling but not surprising considering the GOA’s acceptance of recent recommendations to consider “non-scientific evidence during an emergency.” Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz has failed to mention the impact of climate change on Alberta’s long-term droughts. Instead she blamed El Niño, a periodic system associated with warm dry weather, even while a group of scientists in her very department published research warning of extreme drought in Alberta due to global warming.

The GOA has also started, as of Feb. 1, unprecedented negotiations with Alberta’s current water licence holders, who operate under a “first in time, first in right” system. But all negotiations are occurring behind closed doors, with no indication of whether changes in water licensing are forthcoming.

Alberta needs an independent water board that has teeth and the ability to make policy, licensing and emergency decisions, apart from both the GOA and AER. An independent water board would guarantee both transparency and the more substantial inclusion of stakeholders, communities and experts than we see currently.

 

 

An independent water board could not only manage the province’s water licenses and complex water license transfer system, but also include Indigenous communities, industry, agriculture, tourism, scientists, wildfire specialists, as well as a limited number of municipal and provincial government members. 

There is already a precedent for independent water boards in Canada, in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, where water co-governance is mandated by modern treaties. While these systems too have limitations, they could be built and improved upon.

The GOA already greatly benefits from its partnership with the Alberta Water Council, Watershed Planning and Advisory Councils and Watershed Stewardship Groups, according to the GOA’s Water for Life Strategy. Why not provide these collaborators the opportunity to act directly and authoritatively through an empowered water board?

If water really is “a life source” as the GOA describes it, all Albertans should be taking a much more active role in its governance than they have been allowed to do. It is time that Albertans get serious about our water because the consequences of our water crises are just getting started.

Sabrina Perić

Energy anthropologist, associate professor at the University of Calgary, and co-director of the Energy Stories Lab

 

 

Shootin’ the Breeze welcomes submissions about local issues and activities. Personal views expressed in Mailbox articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect views of Shootin’ the Breeze management and staff. 

MD of Pincher Creek temporary pumping station

MD confirms water in Crowsnest River despite media reports

The Crowsnest River has not run dry, although councillors and staff with the Municipal District of Pincher Creek have kept busy in recent weeks refuting a number of media reports saying otherwise.

“Our [water] intakes are constructed right near where the Crowsnest River historically passes, which is at the bed of the Oldman Reservoir,” says the MD’s utilities and infrastructure supervisor, David Desabrais.

“The river certainly has not been dry at any point during this water crisis. We’ve been pulling water from the Crowsnest River daily since at least Jan. 2. So, certainly not a dry river.”

Last August, the MD made the decision to institute a Stage 2 water restriction. Days later, levels on the nearby Oldman River dropped to historical lows — the level falling below the two intake valves that would otherwise collect the water supply. At this point the restriction was increased to Stage 3.

As a stopgap measure, MD council decided to truck in water, through the late summer and fall, to keep taps running with the intakes unable to do their job. This came with a high price tag — nearly $1 million at last count.

In late December, with water still near its intake, a temporary pumping station was set up on the river north of Cowley to provide a lion’s share of the MD’s water source. It will be dismantled once expected water levels return to the Crowsnest River.

“We’re making about two-thirds of our volume right now through the pumping setup that’s essentially hanging over the edge of the river,” Desabrais says. “Every morning our third-party contractor goes in and if there’s any ice will break it up as required.”

Once lowered into the river, the submersible pump goes through a series of processes before eventually ending up in the existing plant.

 

Ad for Aurora Eggert Coaching in Beaver Mines

 

“The water goes through a clarification/settling tank for minor treatment before we send it farther. It then goes through a filtering setup inside the nearby sea can,” Desabrais says.

“From there, it goes directly into our intake pipe, our existing piping and into our water treatment plant.”

Although far less than before, the remaining one-third or so of the water needed to keep tanks full at the plant is still being trucked in.

“We are still supplementing our levels every day with potable water,” he says. “There’s a few contractors in the town of Pincher Creek that have water hook-ups within their shops and they’re trucking out water directly to our plant every day to start in the morning.”

But Desabrais and the MD know the current situation is only temporary.

“We’ve looked at a ton of options for securing our long-term water needs,” Desabrais says.

“We’ve submitted all of our regulatory approvals for a project to build new infiltration structures that would be located sub-surface near our existing intakes, about 300 metres to the west on the bed of the Oldman Reservoir.”

If approved, two buildings would house a new framework of pipes, which Desabrais says would be hydraulically connected to the Crowsnest River underground and could still draw water during periods of drought.

“From there,” he says, “we would pump it up to our intake building, which is located about 700 metres to the southwest, which our existing intakes go to.”

While some permits for the proposed project have been granted, Desabrais says the MD is still waiting on seven others before work can begin.

Once all approvals are final, the hope is to break ground as early as the end of March.

 

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.