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SMRID reservoirs nudge up to 47 per cent full supply limit

Posted on February 26, 2024 by admin

By Cal Braid
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Winter water supply in the St. Mary River Irrigation District reservoirs edged up in the right direction, according to the District’s Feb. 18 season update. After unseasonably warm temperatures in November and December of 2023, winter finally landed with a thud in January and the bleak forecasts have trended slightly better.

“We are now at 285,000 acre-feet of storage for the entire St. Mary Project, which represents 47 per cent of our combined Headworks and District reservoirs winter storage target levels. Our winter storage target is estimated at 78 per cent of our Irrigation Storage FSL (Full Supply Limit) to accommodate spring runoff and precipitation events,” said George Lohues, board of directors for SMRID, in his February update.

He said that snowpack in the mountains has continued to increase since the middle of January, though all three stations – the St. Mary, Waterton, and Milk River Ridge reservoirs–are still below the lower quartile. “As you can see from the snow pillow charts, the majority of the snowfall is not received until February to April in a normal year.”

In the update, Lohues included snow pillow graphs that mapped a dry year (2000-2001) against the years 2023-2024. The graphs showed the snow pillow from Akamina, Flat Top and Many Glacier. The current graph line still looks dismal compared to previous years, but snowpack in those mountains is trending ever-so-slightly upwards. The mountains feed the headwaters of the St. Mary, Waterton and Belly Rivers and the pillow on Flat Top is normally the system’s largest snow water contributor.

The SMRID appears to be engaging proactively with other districts to develop a plan for the upcoming season. “We participated in Workshop # 1 of 3 on Feb. 9, facilitated by WaterSMART Solutions with Water License holders in the Province of Alberta to share information and work towards the development of water sharing agreements in the event drought conditions continue through the 2024 irrigation season,” Lohues said in his newsletter. 

“The goal is to develop four voluntary, collaborative water sharing agreements for the Red Deer, Bow, Oldman and Southern Tributaries (Waterton, Belly and St. Mary) River sub basins. These sub-basins comprise the larger South Saskatchewan River water basin.” He said that over 47 water licence holders, members from the Government of Alberta and additional observers attended.

He said that information gathered from breakout groups by sector and sub-basin users will now be entered into the South Saskatchewan River Operational Model (SSROM). The model can project different water use scenarios within each sub-basin based on supply and demand criteria. The participants are scheduled to meet again on March 1 for a second workshop “to review the preliminary results from the SSROM modelling scenarios with the end goal of developing water sharing agreements. SMRID and all of the Irrigation Districts are committed to sharing water with municipalities and industry to ensure all water users have access to water during this drought period,” Lohues said.

“We continue to strongly advise each member to commence planning their crops accordingly considering the possibility of not receiving a full allocation of water per acre for the 2024 irrigation season,” he said. The District will continue to monitor the snowpack and precipitation levels over the next two months and will provide updates on March 15 and at the time of the April 3 AGM.

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