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Calgary water restrictions could start in May as drought looms

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Amid growing drought concerns, the City of Calgary is telling residents to prepare for possible water restrictions as early as May.

In an update on the city's drought preparedness plan Tuesday morning, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said every Calgarian needs to conserve water.

"Our first step is to educate people we are in a drought," she said.

"Before we start to implement restrictions or other measures, I really believe Calgararians will pull together and do the right thing."

The city says Calgary is experiencing drought conditions, with a higher-than-average risk the conditions will persist in the coming months.

According to Nicole Newton, the city's natural environment and adaptation manager, river levels are low and reservoir levels are average.

Newton said most of the city's water comes from the mountain snowpack, which typically falls in March, April and May. That means it won't fully understand the situation until then.

During the preparedness update, the city said it is already washing its cars less, installing more efficient irrigation systems and using moisture monitors to see if trees need to be watered to conserve as much as possible.

If restrictions were to be put in place in May, they would only cover outdoor water usage for things like car washing and watering lawns and gardens.

Gardners shopping at Golden Acre Home and Garden on Tuesday said Calgary's drought and water shortage are top of mind.

"I don't plant anything ornamental," said Tamara Becker.

"If we end up in a restriction season, we can't water our lawn. I'm fine to do that. I would much rather, you know, let Mother Nature do its thing and if the garden survives, it survives."

Golden Acre horticulturalist Colin Hayles says there are ways to garden successfully and conserve water at the same time.

"A lot of times, your established perennials, your established trees, they don't need the water that we give them. We go excessive," said Hayles.

"Root feeders and soaker hoses in conjunction with a rain barrel are by far the most efficient way to save water and money and give your plants the biggest boost for health."

Hayles says Golden Acre brought in its supply of rain barrels months earlier than previous years and is already having trouble keeping them in stock as Calgarians move toward greater water conservation.

Golden Acre along with the City of Calgary, the Calgary Horticultural Society and Green Calgary are hosting a water conservation seminar on March 23.

It runs between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Golden Acres Home and Garden on Goddard Road N.E.

Drought concerns across Alberta

According to the province, many areas are currently dealing with drought conditions, particularly in the southern portion of the province.

Right now, Alberta is in stage 4 (out of 5) in its water shortage management response plan.

Kerry Black, an assistant professor and research chair at the University of Calgary, says municipalities must co-operate and be proactive rather than reactive regarding water use.

"It's really important we talk about what we are using our water for and why, and are we using our water responsibly and sustainably," she said.

Black says that as a society, we should examine our water use and consider things like whether we really need to use drinking-quality water for things like flushing the toilet.

While industry and agriculture use a large amount of water, Black notes individuals also have a big role in conservation.

"It doesn't take you long to get up to 200 litres of water a day just in you using your water, and that's not even considering you watering your lawn or washing your car, which is something I've seen a lot of in the summer months."

Black says people should use the rule of six to easily visualize how much water they’re using — every minute a faucet runs is six litres, every minute in the shower is six litres and every toilet flush is another six litres.

If the city implements outdoor water restrictions in May, it will be the second year in a row.

In 2023, the restrictions did not come into effect until mid-August. 

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