Claresholm town council updated on water situation

By Rob Vogt

The Town of Claresholm is preparing for another spring and summer where water conservation measures will again have to be adopted.
At its March 25 meeting, Claresholm town council discussed the water situation after a report from administration.
Abe Tinney, the town’s chief administrative officer, explained the town is still in a water shortage and Stage 3 of its water shortage response plan.
That plan includes five levels and stages of water usage restrictions:
• 1,052.5 metres, normal;
• 1,046.0 metres, Stage 1;
• 1,045.0 metres, Stage 2;
• 1,044.0 metres, Stage 3 and the current stage of water restrictions;
• 1,043.0 metres, Stage 4;
• 1,042.0 metres, Stage 5.
Summer water consumption in July and August of 2023 was 19 percent less, or 7,212 cubic metres less, than summer consumption in 2022. It was 26 percent less, or 7,876 cubic metres less, than in 2021; and 20 percent less, or 7,239 cubic metres less, than in 2020.
It was noted the community responded to the restrictions and reduced its summer water consumption.
Administration will proactively enforce the water restrictions throughout the summer, with the first step being to educate property owners for first offence of the water restrictions then proceed to fines of $150 for a second offence and $250 for third and subsequent offences.
Currently, the level in the Pine Coulee Reservoir is 1,044 metres and holds 14,000,000 cubic metres at 30 per cent.
Supplemental pumping of water into the town’s raw water intake structure would happen at a level near or below 1,042 metres.
Overall, the intake and infrastructure are well suited for use in the event of a water shortage and could continue to be utilized if required.
The yearly snowpack and spring rains may provide water runoff into the Willow Creek headworks that supply water to the Pine Coulee Reservoir diversion canal. Coun. Mike Cutler asked what is the process of going to Stage 4. If the situation is not looking good, could the town be proactive and move to Stage 4 instead of waiting for the water level to drop below 1,043 metres.
Coun. Kieth Carlson said last summer the Town of Claresholm and administration did a good job of communicating the situation and needs to do that again.
He added all the town can do is educate the public. Right now watering is one day a week and, actually, if people start that they will save money.
Carlson also pointed out there are steps people can take such as using rain barrels.
Mayor Brad Schlossberger asked what is Stage 4.
Tinney responded there are different restrictions for residential, commercial and institutional users. Administration is currently working through them now and looking for clarification on some matters. He will have answers later.
Tinney said the town is also working with Alberta Environment and the Municipal District of Willow Creek on a system to keep water from freezing at the intake in the reservoir.
He noted the best thing right now is to take a cautious approach. The town is planning to be as ready as possible, and Tinney outlined some operational adjustments.
There are yearly maintenance requirements that will consume large amounts of water, but must continue:
• Annual complete sewer main flush program – Town crews flush every sewer main in the sanitary system. This operation uses large amounts of water but is necessary to prevent sewer backups in the system.
• Annual hydrant inspection and flush – Town crews operate every hydrant in the distribution system. This involves flushing enough water through each hydrant to accurately measure flow, pressure, chlorine residual, and turbidity.
• Street sweeping – Sweeping every road in town is done to remove road salt and sand from the snow removal season, as well as debris throughout the year.
Possible operational adjustments could be:
• Hydrants will be flushed as little as possible to achieve acceptable levels.
• Sewer flush truck and sweeper fills could be coordinated with hydrant flushing to use water that is normally not captured.
• Limit street sweeping hours.
• Spray park hours will be shortened to limit water usage. This water flows into the golf course where it is used for irrigation.
• Flower bed watering can be limited to two to three days per week depending on the weather. Sport field and park irrigation will not be used.
• 1,000-litre totes can be installed at specific town locations to capture rainwater. These totes can be used to fill the portable tank used by the gardener, or moved to various locations around town for hand watering.
• Using water captured in the storm ponds for watering trees and plants throughout town. Water would be pumped into portable tanks to be used around town.
• Install water bags on newly planted trees to limit water waste.
It was noted these changes will come at a cost of operational efficiency and will affect the aesthetics of the town, but administration is committed to limiting its water usage to comply with water restrictions.
It was also noted town administration is actively working on the water shortage response plan, and pre-planning for the various stages, including the options of pumping Pine Coulee Reservoir water from levels below the town’s intake once the water elevation reaches the specified level.
The town continues to work with Alberta Environment and Protected Areas, Oldman Dam operations and MPE Engineering to ensure the current water shortage response plan meets the town-M.D’s best needs moving forward into 2024 and 2025.