Earlier this year, it was announced that starting February 1, Alberta's Drought Command Team will be negotiating with major water license holders throughout the province. 

The negotiations are an attempt to strike water-sharing agreements in the Red Deer River, Bow River, and Old Man River to mitigate the risk of drought. 

Troy Tangedal, General Manager of the Western Irrigation District (WID), says that to date, agreements haven't been formulated, just a preliminary discussion. 

"We, the WID, are willing to work with other irrigation districts that also divert water from the Bow River in a sharing agreement. As we work through the drought management process with other stakeholders and the Government of Alberta, we will get a better outlook on what direct impacts, if any, this will have on our water users,” Tangedal said. 

According to Tangedal, 2023 was the warmest and driest irrigation season since 2001. 

“Our snowpack was 77% of average to begin the year, and the snowmelt occurred five weeks earlier than normal. The first six weeks of the season, temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius above average." 

To mitigate the effects of last year's drought, the WID implemented water sharing amongst their irrigators early in the season, rotating water between 1 of every 3 pivots throughout the year, as well as putting restrictions on households and industry.  

The WID also drew from Chestermere Reservoir (Chestermere Lake) to meet irrigators' needs. 

To prepare for the upcoming season, Tangedal said they must “plan for the worst but hope for the best." 

“At this point out, snowpack is in line with 2023 figures, and we are anticipating and preparing to face similar issues this year."  

Tangedal anticipates that any water sharing agreements made will be strictly for the 2024 water season and not beyond that. 

Since 1963, the WID has been sharing water with other water users and the City of Calgary, since that is primarily where the WID license was reallocated. 

“The WID is unique as our senior water license, which has been in place, in some capacity, since 1894 and was officially issued in 1903 by the Federal Government prior to Alberta being a province, was unilaterally reduced from 627,000-acre feet to 160,400-acre feet by the Government of Alberta in 1963. This substantial reduction in senior license volume, along with a reduction in allowable river flow rate diversion, has put the WID in a significant deficit position compared to other districts historically." 

Water-sharing agreements will be entered into voluntarily and are expected to be completed by March 31. 

The Drought Command Team will prioritize negotiations with the largest water license holders in Alberta to secure significant and timely reductions in water use. 

The Alberta Government is closely monitoring snowpack, rain, water, and river levels throughout the province to predict how much water will be available this year. 

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