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Calgary water restrictions remain amid record low levels in the Bow, Elbow Rivers

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It’s been nearly two months since Calgary implemented outdoor water restrictions, but it could still be another few weeks until they're lifted.

The City of Calgary issued the water restrictions on Aug. 15 following record-high temperatures paired with dry conditions and little precipitation.

As the seasons change and winter approaches, staff will look at whether the city can lift those restrictions.

"Calgarians have saved over 1.1 billion liters which is equivalent to just over 450 Olympic swimming pools," said Nicole Newton, manager of natural environment and adaptation with the City of Calgary. 

Newton says people are typically using water less now.

"As the temperatures cool off, we see that kind of diminishing returns of our restriction on demand."

Despite this, the restrictions remain in place.

According to the city's website, even-numbered addresses can use sprinklers, soaker hoses or in-ground systems for a maximum of two hours on Wednesdays or Saturdays between 4 and 7 a.m., 9 and 11 a.m. or 7 and 10 p.m.

Odd-numbered addresses can do so on Thursdays or Sundays for two hours during the same time periods.

There is no restriction on watering cans, hoses with shut-off sprays or watering wands that turn off when not in use.

Under the water restriction, residents are not allowed to:

  • Wash their vehicle with water in their driveway or on the street;
  • Use water to wash sidewalks, driveways and walkways;
  • Fill fountains or water features;
  • Wash exterior windows; or
  • Clean the outside of buildings.

Newton says that water levels in the Bow River have not been this low since 1911. 

"River levels still remain lower than 10 percent from historical lows," she said. "We monitor that very carefully."

Newton adds that as winter approaches, Calgarians are still encouraged to conserve water use in their home. 

"Reduce showering, making sure your laundry loads are full," she said. 

"Think how we're using our water that's in the reservoirs that gets us through those winter months into the spring. We do rely on our reservoirs to supply the city throughout the winter.

"If we don't get the snowpack and the spring melt that we typically rely on to refill and restock those reservoirs, we might be looking at similar conditions earlier next year."

The city says its received more than 300 water usage complaints to bylaw.

20 have resulted in written warnings, two have progressed to remedial orders and one became a ticket. 

John Pomeroy lives in Canmore and is also the Canada research chair of water resources and climate change at the University of Saskatchewan. 

He says that we’re in a hydrological drought. 

"It’s quite severe," he said. 

"The flows in the Bow River in Calgary have been less than half of normal through most of the summer and they still are. And normal flows in the Bow River are dropping. They're normally very, very low in the fall, but we've been seeing around 30 cubic meters per second, which is quite low for that river."

If we see conditions similar to this summer next spring, Pomeroy say we can expect water restrictions to become normal. 

"Certainly, a second year of hydrological drought would be disastrous for water management in southern Alberta and throughout the prairie provinces.

"One thing we’re starting to see now, is one of the last stages of drought, and that's when drought affects groundwater," said Pomeroy. 

"So the flow in the bow river through Calgary right now is almost completely groundwater discharge out of the mountains."

PREPARING YOUR GARDEN FOR WINTER 

The staff at Spruce It Up Garden Centre along Macleod Trail says although water restrictions are in place, you can still prep your trees and garden for the spring. 

Your trees and shrubs need a good deep soak before they go to bed for the winter, especially in Alberta where you're gardening under the arch," said merchandising manager Susanne Maucieri. 

"A really good thing for trees right now are these tree watering bags. They just wrap around your tree like a little tent. And what they do is they'll hold up to 20 gallons of water and they are a slow drip." 

Maucieri says it’s a good idea to get your garden a nice soak before you shut off your taps outside. 

She says that soaker hoses are better than your normal hose, to help save water, and money.

"For a spring and a summer that we’ve had where it’s been so, so hot, these save 70 per cent of water compared to a normal hose," she said. 

"So these have little pores all the way down the length of the hose."

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