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Alberta releases drought response plan, including steps it would take to declare emergency

The government has released a five-stage drought response plan it says will ensure Albertans get the support they need regardless of the weather and possible drought conditions.

The plan covers a number of areas, including conservation plans, water-sharing agreements and prioritizing water for human health and safety. It also details the process for declaring an emergency, which is something the province said has never been done under the Water Act.

The province said the objectives of the plan include:

  • protecting the health and safety of Albertans from the impacts of drought
  • minimizing the impacts of drought on Alberta’s communities, economy and environment
  • implementing a proactive, risk-based approach to rapidly assess, prepare for and respond to the impacts of a drought
  • ensuring responses to drought conditions are agile and adjusted in real time as information changes
  • enabling all Albertans to take appropriate action, conserve water and work together

The province said Thursday it is in Stage 4 of its five-stage drought response plan, which involves the government working with major water users to create water storage response plans, fast-tracking temporary diversion licences to allow water to be temporarily diverted from new sources, and announcing water-sharing agreements, which was done last month.

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Click to play video: 'Southern Alberta stakeholders sign historic water-sharing agreement'

Southern Alberta stakeholders sign historic water-sharing agreement

The first three stages involved monitoring water availability and coming to the conclusion that droughts are predicted to happen.

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“This spring has brought much-needed moisture to many areas of the province, and new forecasts showing increased precipitation are a cause for optimism,” Minister of Environment and Protected Areas Rebecca Schulz said in a news release.

“However, we must remain prepared for drought now and into the future. Alberta’s drought response plan is foundational to that work and will help our province respond to all levels of drought for years to come.”

Stage 5 of the plan would be declaring an emergency under the Water Act. The province said this would only be done as a last resort. However, if an emergency was declared, the province said it would be a temporary measure to prioritize water use.

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Temporary measures taken to manage water could include suspending approvals, registrations or water licences. The province could also designate the purposes and volumes for which water may be diverted or used.

An emergency declaration would only apply to a specific location, which could range from a small geographical area within a sub-basin to the entire South Saskatchewan River basin or province, depending on the severity of a drought.

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The following three triggers would make the province consider declaring an emergency:

  • If there is not sufficient water available for the priority uses. Human health and safety is the top priority, followed closely by ensuring sufficient water supplies for critical infrastructure, livestock welfare and critical environmental needs.
  • If there is increasing distress from local authorities, or if local authorities are unable to respond to issues caused by drought. For example, if a state of local emergency is declared or if the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre is activated at Level 3 or higher.
  • If Alberta’s water management system becomes so overwhelmed that staff cannot process or implement regulatory measures in a timely manner, impeding the drought response.

The province also noted that May and June can come with flood risks in Alberta, which is why it has a 24-hour monitoring and emergency response in place.

There are currently 51 water shortage advisories in place for water management areas across Alberta.

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