Northern Alberta town mulls over water conservation plan amid dry conditions

The Town of Peace River is reviewing its water conservation plans after the province encouraged the municipalities to prepare for drought. (Town of Peace River/Facebook - image credit)
The Town of Peace River is reviewing its water conservation plans after the province encouraged the municipalities to prepare for drought. (Town of Peace River/Facebook - image credit)

The town of Peace River, in northwestern Alberta, is preparing for the possibility of a water shortage, as drought conditions persist and river levels have dipped.

Much of Alberta is suffering from dry conditions, especially the south. Alberta's minister of environment and protected areas, Rebecca Schulz, sent a letter to municipal leaders in December outlining the dire conditions and encouraging them to take action.

The letter, little precipitation, and recording the lowest river levels in 20 years last summer, were the main drivers behind municipal officials in Peace River to review water intakes, Mayor Elaine Manzer told CBC News.

"There just wasn't much snow, and there's not much melt runoff this spring happening," Manzer said.

Peace River, a town about 385 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, did not have a water shortage advisory as of publication — although 51 have been issued throughout the province so far this year.

The discussion comes after last year's historic wildfire season, however, when Peace River served as a registration centre and housed firefighters. Manzer estimates about 1,000 people passed through the town.

More people this year would mean greater impacts on water usage, she said.

Earlier this month, town administration prepared a briefing note for the town council.

The town's water intake is located near the Shaftsbury Water Treatment Plant, a concrete structure with a debris cage and pipe that draws river water into the pumphouse. Administration assessed that, if the river levels dropped further, it could limit the ability of the intake to pump water at full capacity, the note says.

On an average day, the townspeople can use up to 5,000 m³ of treated waters, removing more than that amount from the river to produce, the note says.

The town has a single water truck that can hold 16 m³ — meaning it would need to refill every five minutes to deliver water throughout the community.

"Even if we could get other water trucks from private contractors, they couldn't keep up either," Manzer said.

The municipality would probably have to seek help from the provincial government to get some temporary water lines that could get water out of the river, into the water treatment plant, "and go from there," she said.

Water conservation bylaw

Peace River aopted a water conservation bylaw in 2008 to govern water use during shortages. Certain provisions, including levies and fines, kick in based on the water reservoir level.

Educating residents about the bylaw will be significant — and further measures may be needed if it is insufficient, town administration says.

"As a council and admin, we haven't really talked about too much other than helping people realize what is in the bylaws," Manzer said.

"You hope that all of this won't be necessary… But when you haven't had snow and you are unlikely to have rain, chances are you're going to use some water restrictions."

If the water supply is compromised, it would be an issue for firefighting, said Peace River Fire Department Chief Tim Harris.

Conditions are the driest he's seen in 33 years of living in the area, Harris said.

"Water conservation, or the lack of water, is of concern to me this year — more than any other year," he said. "I've never seen the river this low."

Harris said vigilance in attending fires and the use of off-highway vehicles is especially important to prevent fires.

Fire restrictions are currently in place for Peace River and much of northwestern Alberta.