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Water Conservation Plan and Strategy presented to Economic and Finance SPC

Changes in climate and weather in southern Alberta are causing worries about water scarcity and ongoing drought. The City is working to proactively address these concerns with the development of the Water Conservation Plan and Strategy (WCPAS). The WCPAS was presented at the April 11 Economic and Finance Standing Policy Committee meeting. It aims to cut water use by 20 per cent by 2030. Updates to the Water Rationing Action Plan (WRAP) are also being considered.

Water conservation addresses long-term changes in water usage behaviour. The changes improve the use of water resources to benefit people and the environment. Water rationing addresses an immediate water crisis. Water uses and availability can be limited to ensure supply is maintained for public health and safety.

Southern Alberta has experienced three consecutive years of drought. While recent snow events are helpful, reservoir levels remain well below normal. Alberta remains in water shortage management stage four out of five. The province is working with water users and local governments to manage the situation. The province’s drought website provides up-to-date information. This includes reservoir levels, snowpack and water supply outlooks.

City of Lethbridge departments continue to look for ways to improve water usage. Programs are already underway to install more water-efficient fixtures in public buildings. The City is also centralizing irrigation controls. Conservation efforts will continue while ensuring public facilities and spaces remain available and inviting.

There is significant public interest in water issues. In early 2024, a water conservation survey gathered almost 4,000 responses. 88 per cent of respondents cited water conservation as a priority.

“This Water Conservation Plan and Strategy addresses a lot of what we heard in the survey,” says Mark Svenson, Manager of Engineering and Environment. “We've designed voluntary, economic, and regulatory measures to create long-term changes in water usage behaviour. This will benefit residents and the environment for years to come”.

One economic measure is incentives and rebates for things like rain barrels, water-efficient toilets and xeriscaping. Xeriscaping involves landscaping that greatly reduces, or even eliminates, the need for irrigation. The availability of incentives and rebates would depend on future funding.

The WCPAS also identifies voluntary indoor and outdoor watering options. Water Wednesday is a new public education campaign from the City of Lethbridge. It offers tips for conserving water and saving money.

Scaling water rates are another economic proposal. Residents who use more water would pay higher rates. The rates are designed to minimize the financial impact on average consumers. The scales also provide a choice in summer watering practices. Efficient water usage will lead to lower bills.

“Other municipalities have scaled water rates. They have been successful in changing and managing water consumption behaviour,” says Joel Sanchez, Director of Infrastructure Services. “Even with the adjusted rates, Lethbridge would remain among the lowest in Alberta and the lower percentile among municipalities in Canada.”

The proposed rate changes would not impact 74 per cent of current residential users. Pricing changes are also proposed for the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) sector. The changes would not affect more than 90 per cent of current ICI users.

The updated WRAP outlines immediate actions to reduce water usage when supply is low. The streamlined document would include:

  • Triggers to identify each stage.
  • Updated reduction targets.
  • Updated penalties for non-compliance.

Any proposed changes to the Water bylaw (Bylaw 3999) stemming from the updated Water Rationing Action Plan will go to Council in the coming months. These changes relate to the updated stages and potential fines included in the WRAP.

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