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Experts say talk on water conservation in Alberta should happen sooner rather than later

Water usage is once again in the spotlight, particularly in southern Alberta, as experts raise the alarm on usage habits after conversation around scarcity emerged following a water line break in Cochrane last week.

The situation in the town north of Calgary became more emergent after reservoir levels reached a critical state following the break, which saw unspecified amount of sewage leak into the Bow River.

Cochranites were asked to conserve as much water as possible, even being asked not to shower, do laundry or wash dishes for a period of time.

There are lots of water shortage advisories across Alberta, most of which are in the Calgary area, according to the province.

This is causing concerns for some experts.

Jay White, a biologist and member of the Alberta Water Council, says a difficult conversation needs to be had.

He says places such as Lethbridge could be out of drinking water in the next few months if levels don’t improve, and that there needs to be talks about drought management.

“Users were told, please do your darndest to minimize your use, be cognizant of your use and of course, last Monday they had record uses of water,” White said of the situation in Cochrane.


Watch: Cochrane declares state of local emergency


“We need to have that conversation before somebody needs to turn off the tap to get our attention — our society’s attention around these water issues,” he continued. “Maybe stop worrying about what the Kardashians are doing and maybe pay attention our water issues in this province.”

In a statement to CityNews, the City of Lethbridge says the area won’t be running out of drinking water, adding there is currently a lot of misinformation circulating on the subject, and the provincial government is working with the city to ensure capacity is met.

Tricia Stadnyk, a hydrologist and researcher with the University of Calgary says with how low levels are in places around the province, we might need to change some habits surrounding water usage to conserve more water, until levels improve.

“Historically, we think that water is an infinite supply — it’s not — especially in southern Alberta, water is a finite resource and we need to start treating it like that,” she said.

Right now, according to the province, Alberta is in a stage four water management, meaning multiple regions are facing a shortage.

White says Albertans need to think about the future.



“Looking ahead at what’s coming at us — obviously we’re in quite a situation right now — and it does not look like things are going to get much better,” he said. “We have some time now to have those water conversations and we can start talking about what some of things are we can do.”

Stadnyk says conservation efforts need to be underway as we look at replenishing water levels.

“We have to trust the professionals and trust that they’re managing the supply, that if we respond accordingly, nobody will run out,” she said. “But, we don’t really have room for panic in these kinds of situations when we get down to the lower quartile ranges.

“Everybody should remain calm and conserve water usage.”

Stadnyk says that being water smart is always a good idea, and it’s a worthwhile practice to be conservative with H20 year-round.

“I’m not going to say we’re in dire straits, but anything that people can do to be more mindful of what they’re using, and to conserve and cut back — particularly when we’re in stage four water management scenarios and drought — is a good thing, and so I would still encourage that and that’s better for the ecosystem and long term that’s better for us, including our economy, that depends on agriculture,” she said.

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