Wood Buffalo on alert as Alberta’s water crisis worsens

Wheat field and straw bales in the Milk River Valley with the Sweetgrass Hills in the background

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) in northeast Alberta, Canada, is closely monitoring the potential for drought conditions within its jurisdiction, amid widespread concerns across the state about critical water shortages due to low precipitation and reduced snowmelt levels. While much of the province prepares for severe drought, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada indicating that all regions are facing at least moderate drought conditions and southern areas experiencing extreme dryness, RMWB has not yet raised the alarm over water scarcity.

Greg Bennett, a spokesperson for the municipality, has emphasized the fortunate position of Fort McMurray, given the Athabasca River’s capacity to meet the region’s water demands even in especially dry years. “There are no concerns at this time about water levels that would impact our ability to provide water for the communities within Wood Buffalo,” Bennett told local media.

The announcement comes as Alberta grapples with 51 water shortage advisories and calls from Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz for municipalities and oil and gas companies to prepare for potential water shortages. The Fort McMurray Water Treatment Plant services Anzac, Saprae Creek, and Gregoire Lake Estates, with contingency strategies in place for Fort McKay and Janvier, should they face drought impacts in the future.

In response to the looming crisis, oil and gas companies are also taking steps to mitigate the effects of water shortages. Cenovus has announced ambitious targets for reducing freshwater use in its operations, while Imperial Oil’s spokesperson, Lisa Schmidt, highlighted the company’s commitment to water management through the use of recycled process water and onsite precipitation storage.

As Alberta braces for the possibility of a widespread drought, the RMWB’s current lack of water shortage concerns offers a glimmer of hope. However, with the provincial government urging for preparedness, both municipal and corporate entities within the region remain on alert, ready to implement measures to conserve water and sustain supplies through potentially challenging times ahead.

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