Dry spell sparks call for voluntary water use reduction in Pembina Valley area

Longer-term plan needed to avoid water shortages in more drastic situations, officials say

Parts of the Pembina Valley were asked last week to reduce their water use as a dry spell across the region endured and demand for water peaked as farmers sprayed fields and residents watered lawns.

The Pembina Valley Water Co-op’s CEO Greg Archibald said the request was voluntary and came after they had problems with the Letellier water plant along the Red River supplying enough water.

The plant is reaching its limitations as populations increase in the area, he said.

“Over the last few years we’ve had considerable population growth in southern Manitoba, especially in the corridor through Rhineland and Stanley,” Archibald said.

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“The growth is pushing our Letellier plant in terms of capacity.”

Municipalities sent out notice to their affected areas which included Montcalm, Rhineland, Stanley, Emerson-Franklin, Altona and Winkler June 8. As the week ended it appeared citizens had complied with the request to postpone car washing and water their lawns less.

“In fact the usage went down quite a bit so that’s allowed us to refill some of our reservoirs,” he said.

But even as rainfall brought some relief this week, and the region’s water conservation measures are temporary this time, events of this spring point to the need for longer-term planning for drought, Archibald said.

A lot of people depend on the water co-op’s ability to supply its 14 member municipalities. The co-op includes the Letellier water plant, plus one near Morris also on the Red River and a third on the Boyne River at Stephenfield Provincial Park.

Archibald said plans are to start looking for alternate water sources as well as make upgrades to the co-op’s water infrastructure including piping and equipment changes.

The co-op board recognizes a need to be ready for drastic situations in prolonged dry spells, he said.

“Certainly the direction of my board is we should begin to look at drought and this whole area,” he said, adding some very serious scenarios could unfold if it set in. Notably, there is no international treaty specifying water flow along the Red River into Canada in drought scenarios, he said.

“Strictly speaking, if there was a really bad drought, on the Red they could keep the water on the U.S. side. And that would be big, big trouble.”

The impact of increasing water demand in the region combined with growing population was documented in a 2012 study done for the Pembina Valley Conservation District and funded through RBC.

The report Be True to Blue, showed while residents in the Pembina Valley tend to be frugal with water, using about 70 per cent less than the average Canadian, a growing population combined with dry spells and unchanged water use practices would result in a water shortage in the Pembina Valley by 2040.

That report had multiple recommendations and lower-cost solutions found through water conservation, said Cliff Greenfield, PVCD manager.

“There’s a history of good water use in this area,” he said. “What this report looked at is how to get 30 years into the future without a huge investment in water infrastructure.”

That report’s recommendations included widespread adoption of water-efficient technology for residences and industry, a shift towards more xeriscaped lawns not requiring watering, and rates charged for water to reflect the true cost of supplying water.

Archibald said there is much to be learned from other parts of the world where water is far less abundant, such as in Israel where as much as 75 per cent of water is recycled and reused.

Meanwhile, Canadians continue to expect water supply systems that provide drinking water to flush their toilets and water their lawns.

“Other countries are considerably ahead of us. We’re spoiled. We’ve got so much (water). We don’t recognize the importance of it,” he said.

“Things like this (call for water conservation) get people thinking about it a little bit more,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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