A voluntary reduction of water, combined with acquiring alternate water sources have eased pressure on the Pembina Valley Water Co-op as they faced water shortages earlier this month.
The organization supplies water to 14 municipalities and four non-member customers over a 9,000 square kilometer area, from three water plants, based in Letellier, Morris and Stephenfield Lake.
CEO Greg Archibald said increased water use began to stress the plants earlier this month. On June 2, they asked four municipalities and the four other users to cut their use by 15 percent after the Letellier plant maxed out capacity.
That was extended to their other member municipalities later that week after both Morris and Stephenfield plants reached capacity as well.
Although the first day after the request saw an increase in water use, users soon responded and crisis was averted.
Archibald said having plants operating at capacity is not ideal.
If pressure drops in the main line, a boil water advisory would be issued.
“We have four hospitals in our region, one with lots of COVID patients,” he said. “We certainly didn’t want to put people into a boil water advisory.”
The other concern is the lack of time to address any issues. At one point, Archibald said if the Letellier plant had gone down they only had water for another six to eight hours. “That was pretty concerning to us,” he said.
Archibald described the response by member municipalities as “amazing”, adding the general conservation measures put in place were successful.
Alternate water sources were also found.
Pumps have been put in place at the Lavallee Pit east of Morris, Trans Canada located on Highway 75 south of Letellier, the Dead Horse Creek west of St Jean and Paterson Pit between Winkler and Carman.
“That was just wonderful,” he said. “It made a huge difference for us.”
The drought and high temperatures are blamed for the shortage. This is combined with crop spraying, and growth in the region as factors for increased use.
Archibald said the Canadian Drought Monitoring Agency has classified the current drought as “D3”, an extreme drought.
“That’s a 20 to 50 year event,” he said. “What that means is all these dugouts and other water sources that might have been available for farmers are not there. That puts a strain on our system.
The problem right now is not the availability of raw water. The Red River, which supplies two of their three plants is at the edge of normal to below normal flows for this time of year.
Instead it’s the capacity of the plants to turn the raw water into potable water.
But Archibald said that’s being addressed through ongoing and planned projects.
This year Stephenfield is being converted from 40 to 60 litres per second.
A reservoir built near Carman will be filled shortly.
The Morris plant is also seeing an upgrade and Archibald said by the middle of July the output will improve from 70 to 100 litres per second.
The organization is waiting for funding to begin work on their Letellier plant as well. They plan to put in a new pipeline between the river and the plant and establish a four million litre reservoir for potable water which will be in addition to the 2.7 million litre reservoir already in in place.
They also plan future changes to the plant itself.
While the water co-op is responding to the new conditions, Archibald admits they’re covering new ground.
“We’ve never maxed out at the Stephenfield and Morris plants before,” he said.
Part of addressing the changing conditions is assessing the demand more thoroughly. Archibald said in the RM of Morris alone they are tied in to about 20 hog barns, although normally only a small number use PVWC water.
“During drought they turn on the tap,” he said. “We’ve got to better understand what the usage is in dry conditions and better understand how long this is going to go.”
While the supply of raw water is not a concern right now, PVWC did work on planning for such a scenario. A drought plan developed in 2018 pointed out that a period of substantial drought took place in the 1980’s and the drought in the 1930’s saw the Red River dry up almost completely.
Archibald said he’s thankful for the cooperation they’ve received in water reductions from all their customers.
The PVWC is also directing people to their website at pvwc.ca where tips on reducing water usage can be found.