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On October 17, 2023, City Council approved the Drought Resilience Plan, which is now available here.
Thank you to all Calgarians who participated in engagement activities to help inform this important Plan for our city.
We are preparing now, so we are ready for the future
We are working on a Drought Resilience Plan that is exploring a variety of proactive strategies to help our homes, businesses and park spaces adapt and use less water outdoors, so they can thrive in a drier climate.
Through previous research, these strategies were identified as viable solutions to Calgary’s drought risks and vulnerabilities and are widely used by other drought prone cities across North America.
They range from lower cost and easier to implement projects to larger and more complex projects to be initiated over the next 5-10 years.
There is no silver bullet and ensuring access to a safe, reliable water supply will require several strategies and the participation of other levels of government, industry, businesses, and individuals. While the strategies presented here for your feedback are largely focused on ways to reduce how much we use outdoors, the Plan includes other strategies that will help protect our water supply.
Calgary is prone to drought. How we adapt is key.
We are fortunate to have two mountain-fed rivers flowing into Calgary, but into the future our rivers and water supply are facing pressures from a growing population, limits on how much water we can draw from the river and the effects of a changing climate where droughts will be more common.
In Calgary, all the water we drink and use in our everyday activities comes from the Bow and Elbow Rivers. Building resilience to drought today means Calgary will be better prepared for changes to our climate and help protect the rivers we all rely on.
The consequences of drought are far reaching
From river floods to droughts – Calgary has a variable climate
Calgary is a dry climate, and because of our proximity to the mountains, we can experience unpredictable swings in the weather from heavy rains leading to floods to many weeks of dry temperatures and little rain leading to droughts.
A multi-year drought impacting Calgary is one of our city’s top climate risks. Impacts may also accumulate in severity when other compounding climate risks such as heatwaves, wildfires, and changes in seasonality overlap with drought occurrences.
We are listening to Calgarians
To build drought resilience, some of the strategies we are considering need the participation of all Calgarians and businesses to reduce how much water we need and use. How these strategies are designed and implemented will depend on a variety of considerations.
Your feedback, along with feedback from other stakeholders, technical analysis, and provincial regulations will inform the development of the Drought Resilience Plan.
Engagement on the Drought Resilience Plan ran from May 24 to June 14, 2022. Findings from this engagement are summarized in two What We Heard reports.
The first What We Heard Report summarizes engagement with internal staff and key local and provincial water resource groups on the draft Drought Resilience Plan framework. This framework includes the draft vision, principles, goals, and strategic actions for advancing drought resilience across Calgary and the watershed.
The second What We Heard Report summarizes engagement with businesses and the public about the proposed strategic actions in the framework most relevant to them and where their feedback would help to inform their future implementation.
Due to a high volume of responses received during the public engagement process, all comments are included in the separate verbatim document.
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Southern Alberta is an arid region, so the area has experienced droughts in the past with the most recent drought in 2002. While our agricultural sector was the hardest hit during this time, Calgary was also a city of less than 1 million and was fortunate that we were able to adjust our operations without requiring water restrictions.
Looking ahead, a changing climate will cause these prolonged dry spells to happen more frequently, which could also lead to multi-year droughts and potential water shortages for our area.
It’s been dry in Calgary and we're anticipating drier conditions throughout the summer, with the long-term forecast from Environment Canada showing below average precipitation and above average temperatures in the plains.
Currently, our water supply appears average . We’re fortunate to have above average snowpack in the mountains, average reservoir storage upstream. However, this year we’re entering the summer with less moisture than normal in Calgary and areas east of us, so we’re expecting water demand to be up. In addition, the Alberta Environment and Parks water supply outlook is for average flow volumes for the Bow River Basin from March – September.
We’ll continue to closely monitor forecasts, our water supply and demand and other local indicators in the coming weeks and we’re prepared to respond so that we continue to have enough water to meet our essential needs. This includes plans to help reduce water usage based on the severity of a drought.
Most grass in Calgary yards is Kentucky Blue Grass, which is vulnerable to drought because it heavily relies on water to thrive during hot, dry periods. Grass has a very shallow root system, which means it cannot hold water for long and requires frequent watering to stay green. This drives up Calgary’s water demand and puts pressure on rivers in times of drought.
The City has taken several proactive steps to explore ways to increase our water storage and manage our demand to ensure we have a year-round reliable water supply.
For example, the addition of higher gates at the Glenmore Dam doubles the storage of the reservoir, which not only increases flood protection but also improves our climate resilience to future droughts so we can store more water in the winter when flows on the Elbow River are at their lowest.
The City also continues to advocate for a new provincially-owned upstream reservoir on the Bow River that would be a major component for drought management and flood mitigation in Calgary.
Also, significant progress has been made to help reduce our water demand by nearly 30% despite a growing population. This includes investments in leak detection, watermain replacements, water metering, adoption of low flow toilets and faucets.
Glacial melt is important. On average, glacier melt makes up approximately 3% of Calgary’s annual river runoff with most of our water supply comes from precipitation – snowmelt and rain.
However, if we were to experience a drought extending into August when precipitation is at its lowest, glacial melt would contribute 8-20% of our water supply, when there isn’t as much precipitation to rely on.
With rising temperatures due to climate change, glaciers will continue to shrink, meaning we won’t have the same steady supply in our rivers to sustain us over the driest months of the year.
If water demand exceeds our water supply and what our plants can deliver, mandatory outdoor water restrictions may be needed, so we continue to have enough water for our most essential needs. We know how important it is for Calgarians to have access to reliable, clean water. Our operations have a strong reputation of carefully managing our water supply and are always closely monitoring our water use.
In addition to some of the water wise programs that are geared at residential outdoor water use, we’re also advancing some of the other buildings blocks that are critical in managing our long-term risks to our water supply. This includes:
Using rainwater collected in a rain barrel is a great way for homeowners to reduce their demand on drinking water supplies when we’re looking to get through short-term dry spells. In fact, for over a decade, The City has been sponsoring Green Calgary’s annual rain barrel offered every spring. However, during extended dry periods and multi-year droughts rain barrels are not enough to meet residential needs, so we will need to turn to other water reuse opportunities, including cisterns and storm ponds that have larger holding capacities.
Trees provide numerous benefits to our city and during drought conditions we encourage Calgarians to prioritize the watering of trees. Some best practices include:
If drought conditions were severe and outdoor water restrictions were needed, a garden hose, soaker hose, or drip irrigation can be used during early stages of outdoor watering restrictions, while a bucket of water can be used during a Stage 3 restriction. Learn more about water restrictions.
We will use your feedback, along with other stakeholders, to shape and refine the strategies that will be presented to Council for approval in fall 2023.
You see the results of decisions made by The City of Calgary every day – in your roads, drinking water, parks and much more. Get involved and provide your input on City projects and programs. Together we can build a better community!
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