The City of Morden has implemented water restrictions for residents and businesses, as the southern Manitoba municipality prepares to enter the summer months in severe drought conditions.
"You can go take a walk out there and see the problem right at the beach. We now have three times the beach we’ve ever had before. It doesn’t take imagination to understand where this is going to put us, if we don’t do something," Morden Mayor Brandon Burley told the Free Press.
Southern Manitoba is currently experiencing various levels of drought conditions, according to the Canadian Drought Monitor, with all of the area west of Morden and Winkler (inclusive) classified as extreme — currently the driest part of the country.
For Morden, a city of nearly 9,000, 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, the conditions pose a significant risk to its main water supply. The municipality relies on a single source, a reservoir called Lake Minnewasta.
"The seasonal flushing of the lake didn’t happen last year, and barely happened the year before. And as winter progressed, water was being used and there was no recharge from snow to speak of. And then nothing in terms of rain this spring was of any assistance. That’s usually the time when this lake recharges," Burley said Thursday.
Lake Minnewasta is currently 6.1 feet below its full supply level. According to the city’s data, the last time water levels were this low was 1983.
This leaves Morden with a bleak forecast of potentially not being able to treat and provide potable water to residents by the end of the summer, if precipitation levels remain consistent as seen over the past four years.
"We’re still working on contingencies for this. We do have an existing supply line to the Pembina Valley Water Co-Op, but we don’t have near enough volume to satisfy the community. And so the city has really had no contingency whatsoever on water supply... As we’ve grown, our water supply hasn’t grown with us," Burley said.
The restrictions are a mix of mandatory and voluntary lowering of water use. There is a ban on use in pools and/or landscaping purposes. Lowering water use in homes and businesses is voluntary, with some mandatory restrictions in place on alternating days.
Overall, it is meant to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in water use.
Drought is one of the biggest climate change-related risks associated with the Prairie region.
Burley said the issue has been on the city’s radar and, in its strategic plan, addressing contingencies for water shortages was a slated priority for 2022. A shortage of resources had prevented action sooner.
"Communities need to be looking at what their backup plans are. And this is something we had forecasted to do next year. But it looks like we’re gonna have to work on a contingency sooner than that," the mayor said.
A government spokesperson with the Department of Agriculture said the province will be offering its support to Morden and other water users across southern Manitoba in the coming weeks and months.
"We appreciate that the City of Morden is taking proactive measures to conserve water and make every drop count."
On Wednesday, the provincial government announced $1 million will go towards the creation of a new water management strategy to address the issue in Manitoba.
Sarah Lawrynuik reported on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press.