By Trevor Busch
As part of an effort to help ensure future water security for all users in southern Alberta, a new water sharing agreement is being considered by the Town of Taber.
Discussed at town council’s Jan. 14 regular meeting, the Southern Tributaries Water Sharing Agreement has been developed by the irrigation districts to augment water users in southern Alberta with the objective of ensuring water security. Although all water users are being asked to join the agreement, it remains voluntary and is intended to be mutually beneficial while recognizing all participants have differing abilities to reduce use.
“St. Mary irrigation district has been working on this, probably for about a year, in partnership with some other irrigation districts that are beneficiaries of that water that flows through the St. Mary system,” said CAO Cory Armfelt. “This draft has come to us from the Taber Irrigation District with regard to putting a structure and agreement in place ahead of any sort of necessity to ration water.”
Under the Water Act, senior licence holders are permitted to share all or part of their allocation with others in the basin. The agreement is designed to provide security during times of water shortage to improve the sustainability of current development and support future growth opportunities for all water users. Irrigation districts hope to share a portion of their allocation equitably and proportionally during water shortage.
“It’s a good idea, because being part of the process is also being shown to be proactive with your water conservation,” said public works director Gary Scherer.
As part of the agreement, two committees are being established to achieve a collaborative decision-making process, the Water Sharing Committee and the Steering Committee.
The Water Sharing Committee will consist of a maximum of two appointees from each irrigation district and one appointee from each signatory, and may include non-voting representation of a maximum of two representatives from the Alberta Irrigation Districts Association, other Alberta irrigation districts, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, or non-government organizations with local presence (Oldman Watershed Council, Alberta Water Council, Alberta Habitat Management Society, Alberta Conservation Association).
The Steering Committee will be drawn from the voting membership and includes a chair (from a district), two district representatives, two signatory representatives from large local authorities, two signatory representatives from small local authorities, one signatory member at large, one representative from Alberta Environment and Parks, and one member at large from a non-profit water advocacy group.
All recommendations of the Steering Committee will be reviewed by the Water Sharing Committee before final review and acceptance by the irrigation districts. All decisions by the irrigation districts are final and will not be subject to appeal or arbitration. According to Scherer, the town will have representation on the agreement’s Steering Committee.
The rationing process would be based on the signatories supplying the districts with monthly water use records for the preceding five years. In 2018, total water consumption for Taber included raw water use May – October (1,686,305 cubic metres), irrigation use May – October (337,416 cubic meters, includes parks, golf course, and trout pond fill), and raw water use November – April (995,717 cubic metres). According to administration, the water sharing agreement would bring “equality for allocation of water resources.”
“We’ll know ahead of time now with this, because of the forecast,” said Scherer. “We’ll know what our allocation reduction is going to be, which is very important because we can get that out to the public right away. Lots of times you’ll end up in August, and you have to ration all your water, or July. We’re being proactive here. They’re setting their water conservation ahead of time.”
Coun. Louie Tams inquired if the agreement would result in the town signing away any of its current water allocation.
“My understanding is we would maintain all of our water allocation, other than a voluntary sharing of water,” said Scherer.
Coun. Jack Brewin felt more detail was needed in the agreement before lending support.
“I’m a little scared to send a letter of support until we see what the other additions may be with allocations.”
Scherer responded that the agreement would still be subject to the final approval of council.
“It’s going to come back to you for your acceptance anyway, so if you’re generally supportive — we all share the pain when there is a drought — then it would be good to support your local irrigation districts, because we fall under their jurisdiction.”
Brewin was still hesitant to throw support behind the idea.
“Absolutely I agree with that, we have to share our water, but I don’t like the idea of another town or city telling us we can only have this much because we need this much.”
Scherer suggested this would not be the case.
“I don’t think the city would be telling you. I think it would go back to the committees, and then final acceptance would be by the districts themselves. And it’s always been by the districts anyway.”
Some of the various districts and municipalities targeted by the agreement include the Aetna Irrigation District, Leavitt Irrigation District, Magrath Irrigation District, Mountain View Irrigation District, Raymond Irrigation District, St. Mary River Irrigation District, Taber Irrigation District, United Irrigation District, Cardston County, City of Lethbridge, City of Medicine Hat, County of 40 Mile, and the County of Warner.
Council voted 6-1 to accept as information the Southern Tributaries Water Sharing Agreement in principle, and to directed administration to submit a letter of support to the Taber Irrigation District. Brewin opposed the motion.