Dry June leads to water restrictions in southern Ontario and beyond

The Grand River Conservation Authority’s recommendation of a 20% water consumption cut applies primarily to municipalities, farmers, golf course operators, water bottlers, and aggregate companies. It is considered a Level 2 advisory under the Ontario Low Water Response Program. Pictured is a view of the Grand River from Fergus, Ontario. Photo credit: Harold Stiver, stock.adobe.com

As dry weather persists, water restrictions are becoming more commonplace across Canada, with water users in southern Ontario’s Grand River watershed being the latest to be asked for a cut in consumption.

The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) announced a new Level 2 advisory on July 21, that urged water users to reduce consumption by 20%.

When the GRCA announced its Level 1 advisory several weeks ago (a 10% reduction), it occurred just as officials in Metro Vancouver began permanent water restrictions that only allow one lawn watering per week.

Between mid-June and mid-July, the GRCA watershed, which is about the same size as Prince Edward Island and has a population of about 1 million people, received approximately 25% of the normal amount of precipitation for that period.

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To help Ontario’s largest watershed during the dry spell since April, the GRCA is using large upstream reservoirs to bolster river flows and maintain low flow targets on the Grand and Speed rivers. Discharges have been increased to maintain flows downstream, which combined with evaporation due to persistent hot, dry weather will add further pressure to all GRCA reservoirs as water levels drop. These reservoirs support the proper operation of about 30 wastewater treatment plants throughout the watershed.

“The dry conditions combined with diminishing river and stream flows can place stress on the natural environment in the Grand River and its tributaries,” announced Stephanie Shifflett, GRCA water resources engineer, in a statement. “Conditions are incredibly dry for this time of year and while any rainfall helps, many of the weather systems we have seen this summer have been localized and fall well short of delivering the amount of precipitation needed,” she added.

Over the past weeks, augmentation from GRCA reservoirs accounted for approximately 80% of the flow in the Grand River through Kitchener, 45% of the flow through Brantford and about 55% of the Speed River flow through Guelph.

The GRCA’s recommendation of a 20% water consumption cut is voluntary and applies primarily to municipalities, farmers, golf course operators, water bottlers, and aggregate companies. It is considered a Level 2 advisory under the Ontario Low Water Response Program.

The call for the consumption reduction came from the Grand River Low Water Response Team’s recent virtual meeting.

In recent weeks, the Ontario cities of Guelph and Brantford, also announced outdoor watering restrictions until further notice. For Guelph, where lawn watering is now completely prohibited, it marked the first such restriction since 2016, which is also the last time a Level 2 condition was declared for the entire watershed.

In Quebec, talk is growing around limiting new developments in drought-prone areas, and even Quebec City, which sits on the St. Lawrence River, had to bring in water restrictions last year amid summer’s blistering heat waves that set records in some areas of the country.

It was also last summer’s extreme heat and extraordinarily high water usage that was one of the primary factors in Metro Vancouver developing its new watering restrictions.

Additionally, Alberta’s Lake Diefenbaker has experienced extremely low water levels this summer, with the shoreline extending over 20 feet in some locations until it meets the water.

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