Town advised water sharing agreement talks

By Rob Vogt
Although recent snowfall is a welcome relief, planning is under way throughout Alberta for the drought that is coming in the spring, including the potential for water-sharing agreements among water licence holders.
At its Feb. 12 meeting, Claresholm town council reviewed a letter from Rebecca Schulze, minister of Environment and Protected Areas, to water licence holders about the water situation in the province.
“As you know, our province is currently in a drought,“ Schulze wrote. “Unfortunately, we have received little precipitation so far this winter. These conditions mean there is potential for the drought to worsen this year, and we must be prepared.”
She noted Alberta has five stages in its water management plan. They range from Stage 1, which is a minor drought, to Stage 5, which can lead to declaration of an emergency.
“We are currently in Stage 4,” Schulze said.
Alberta has stood up a Drought Command Team, and a first draft of a 2024 drought emergency plan has been completed and is being refined.
“We have also initiated drought modelling work that will allow the province to determine how to maximize the province’s water supply,” Schulze said.
The province is also bringing together an advisory panel of leaders from various sectors to provide advice on drought preparations and to advise on how Alberta can make water more available over the long term.
“Finally, and most importantly, starting February 1, 2024, the Drought Command Team will be bringing together major water licence holders to negotiate water sharing agreements,”  Schulze stressed. “Water licence holders will be asked to voluntarily take less water in order to ensure that there is water available for as many users as possible. These negotiations will be the largest water-sharing effort that has ever been initiated in Alberta and the first since 2001.”
In Alberta, there are 25,000 water licence holders who hold licence for 9.5 billion cubic metres of water. The Drought Command Team will select and prioritize negotiations with Alberta’s largest water licence holders in an effort to secure significant and timely reduction in water use.
She asked the following be undertaken by water licence holders in the coming months even if they were not identified as a major licence holder:
1) Review and understand the conditions of their licence.
2) Review and understand how much water their business or organization uses and identify ways to reduce their use of water.
3) Take immediate action by investing in water conservation technologies that will help their business or organization reduce water use.
4) Develop drought plans now in case they are needed in the spring or summer.
5) Enter their licence onto Alberta’s digital regulatory assurance system. This is a secure online platform which will help licence holders compile and view all parts of their licence for greater transparency, completeness, accuracy and timeliness when managing their water licences and water use.
6) Monitoring water availability in their area using and take action to reduce their water use if their area is under a water shortage advisory.
“Alberta has navigated droughts before and has a long, proud history of coming together during tough times. I know we can count on you and all of Alberta’s other water licence holders to take the actions necessary to get through these challenging times,” Schulze said.
“That’s all the information we have now,” said Abe Tinney, the town’s chief administrative officer.
Coun. Craig Zimmer asked if the town should stay at the same stage or move to the next stage in its water management plan to be proactive.
Tinney responded stages are entered based on the water level at the reservoir, adding there is still a ways to go before the next stage is triggered.
He also noted those triggers are attached to the town’s water licence.