Lower than normal levels of snowpack in the mountains

It's been a dry winter, but experts are not yet fretting as a significant amount of snow accumulation may still be coming in the next couple of months. 

By Jamie Rieger —jrieger@prairiepost.com

Some of the typically wettest months of the year are still to come, but what if February, March, and April are as dry as the past few months have been?

Terrence Lazarus, general manager for St. Mary’s River Irrigation District, said that while the fields and pastures around Southern Alberta are looking pretty dry, there is some snowpack in the mountains, albeit the levels are lower than normal.

“The snowpack map is showing on the low end of normal, but there is snow. This is going to be a make-or-break year because the storage is already low, but it’s too early to know. We could get a couple of good periods of precipitation in March and April to bring it up to normal,” said Lazarus.

Alberta has experienced back-to-back drought years in the past and SMRID and all members of the Alberta Irrigation District Association (AIDA) have protocols in place should another dry year occur.

Imposing water allocations to its licensees is one of the first avenues taken when water becomes an issue.

Also, on Nov. 5 of last year, SMRID, along with other members of the AIDA re-signed the Human Use of Water and Livestock Declaration (originally signed in 2010), a document that prioritizes water usage in the event of a drought situation.

“The declaration was a re-signing that recognizes humans and livestock always come first. There’s always talk about the irrigation districts having all this water, but humans and livestock come first,” he said.

The declaration states that “water for basic needs of humans, as defined by the World Health Organization for ‘optimal access service level’, and for livestock sustenance will take priority over any water use for irrigation, and that member districts will participate in water sharing with other licence holders in good faith so that sufficient water can be distributed for basic human use and for sustenance for livestock.”

While the Water Act indicates that districts with the more licences will have greater priority, under drought conditions that water must be shared.

“We’re working very hard with other irrigation districts to share water. The more licenses, the more priority. That is in the Water Act, but by water sharing, we all will feel the pain,” said Lazarus.

Technology for irrigation equipment has improved greatly over the years, with water conservation always being a concern.

“There are fantastic pivots that are very efficient,” he said. “Everybody is doing their bit.”

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