Water use reductions may become the norm as climate change progresses, climate advocates say. 

This story also appeared in LiveWire Calgary

This, as the City of Calgary has formally moved its drought monitoring dial from normal to dry as of July 27.

Due to the drier weather and higher temperatures that Calgary has been experiencing, reducing water use in the city is recommended. The City came to this decision based on its continued observation of precipitation levels, reservoirs and lake levels, stream flow rates in rivers, water demand and other factors. 

Calgary drought monitor now reads ‘dry’ as of July 27, 2023. SCREENSHOT FROM CITY OF CALGARY DROUGHT.

With the drought monitor dial moved to dry, the City is actively taking steps to reduce water use such as reducing watering of flowers, turf, sports fields and newly-planted trees. During this time, the City will also reduce the use of outdoor decorative fountains, limit the exterior washing of City vehicles and buses and reduce outdoor watering at City-owned and operated buildings. 

“We’re reducing but we’re prioritizing, so we really do want to ensure that we’re sustaining our natural assets as a community…so we’ll reduce watering but we’ll really prioritize to ensure that our key assets remain resilient through dry conditions,” said Sarah Marshall, Water Resources Planner at the City of Calgary. 

Right now, water restrictions for Calgarians are still voluntary, however, there are still extra measures community members can take in order to help combat this drought. 

“We really do want to be as proactive as we can as a community. So reducing water now may reduce the impacts of potential watering restrictions down the road,” said Marshall. 

The City recommends that residents try to reduce lawn watering. If lawns need to be watered, it is recommended doing it in the morning, before 7 a.m. or later in the evening. The City also encourages residents to capture rainwater in a rain barrel and use that for their gardens while also adding mulch to the garden bed to reduce evaporation. If residents need to water their plants, the City said that they should use a soaker hose, drip irrigation, or do it by hand to avoid losing water to evaporation.

Residents who have lawns are encouraged to leave the grass two to three inches high to reduce evaporation. Lastly, the City recommends avoiding washing sidewalks, driveways, siding and outdoor furniture. 

During the summer, water use in communities has been seen to increase by 50 per cent because of outdoor watering. With Calgary at its driest, the City continues to promote ways Calgarians can conserve water and reduce the strain on Calgary’s water systems. 

Why Calgary may be drier than usual

Marshall explained that there was a lower-than-average snowpack this year which evidently led to an early snow melt. Because of this, Calgary experienced a lower-than-average watershed in its natural water streams. That started off the summer in what was already a very dry year. 

Rob Tremblay, board co-chair at the Calgary Climate Hub said that as climate change continues to progress, Calgarians can expect to see this type of weather more frequently.

“In general, we should expect less precipitation more regularly. Which leads to drought conditions more easily,” said Tremblay. 

Tremblay agrees that the City is taking the necessary steps to combat a drought, however, without Calgary meeting net-zero emissions by 2025, these steps would just be putting a bandaid on a bigger issue. 

“While adapting to the effects of climate change is good and definitely something we should be doing. We need to also keep in mind that if we start to adapt, we do also need to reduce and eliminate our emissions in order to defeat the root causes,” said Tremblay. 

Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said they stand ready to respond with drier conditions.

“We’re already talking about this is going to be our norm, this isn’t just an exceptional year or anything,” said Dongworth. 

The department is already assessing what they need to do to have better equipment, better training and better protective equipment. 

Current drought conditions 

Currently, the are no mandatory water restrictions, however, it is always encouraged to converse water during dry conditions.

The water levels in the Bow and Elbow Rivers are below normal for this time of year due to the early snowmelt. The Glenmore Reservoir is at full supply, despite upstream reservoirs being low in water supply. Although water demand in Calgary is in the average range, the City believes that temperatures and continued dry conditions may lead to above-average demand. 

The current conditions are based on water quantity, not water quality, according to the City. Calgarians can be assured that they will continue receiving clean and high-quality drinking water. 

Moving forward, the City will continue to monitor the drought conditions. If drought conditions persist, there is the possibility that the City will implement a mandatory outdoor water restriction.  

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Isabella West is a fourth-year Journalism student at MRU. She completed her work term over the summer of 2023 at LiveWire Calgary in partnership with the Calgary Journal.