Calgary’s new source water protection task forces study wildfires, reservoir risks

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Fear that a wildfire west of Calgary could wash burned material into rivers and contaminate the drinking water supply is the focus for one of two new city task forces set to study risks to the watershed.

In a recent integrated watershed management update presented in May to the committee for Utilities and Corporate Services, the City of Calgary confirmed that a Wildfire Source Water Task Force will study the potential for runoff from burned landscapes. Additionally, there will be a Task Force for Calgary’s Bearspaw Reservoir to study risks and requirements of recreational uses and other activities on and surrounding the reservoir.

“With increasing temperatures and drought conditions, water demands will undoubtedly increase,” City staff wrote in a recent integrated watershed management update. “Increasing threat of wildfire in our source watersheds is a risk to our source water quality.”

According to City staff, Calgary is currently engaging experts in water, land and fire management at the municipal level, as well as Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Parks Canada, and academia. Throughout 2019, they will investigate and present recommendations around the feasibility of new tactics and tools to reduce the impact of wildfires on water resources in the watershed.

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Additionally for the City’s 1.4 million residents, Calgary convened a Task Force for the Bearspaw Reservoir to reach “consensus on issues, management principles, and requirements to manage the growing risks to water quality from recreational uses and other activities” on and surrounding the Bearspaw Reservoir. The task force will include representatives from The City of Calgary, Rocky View County and TransAlta.

Calgary-Source-Water-Protection-Plan
Calgary’s Source Water Protection Plan. Credit: City of Calgary

Also in 2019, Calgary intends to initiate a watershed investment strategy to find ways to incentivize conservation and restoration of vulnerable watershed areas. City officials plan to integrate source water protection priorities in regional land use plans under development by the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board and continue to participate in the Bow River Working Group on the Bow Basin Water Management Options feasibility study and advocate for an upstream reservoir to manage flood and water supply.

Lastly, the City is still working to adjust its existing lead management program to comply with the new Health Canada Guidelines on lead.

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