Flood mitigation must consider droughts as well, says water expert

It could be a dry summer in southern Alberta. With so much focus on flooding concerns in recent years, some experts say water management practises need to be more balanced.

John Pomeroy says water management focus has been on flood control since Alberta's 2013 disaster

John Pomeroy says flood mitigation projects, such as the McLean Creek dry dam, have focused completely on flood control and didn't consider drought management. (Artist rendering/Government of Alberta)

Flood mitigation efforts could pose a problem if the dry weather continues into the summer, according to hydrology expert John Pomeroy.

The University of Saskatchewan professor says the focus on water management has been entirely on flood control since Alberta's big flood in 2013. But drought management also must be part of the water management system, he says. 

"So a dry dam does nothing for drought control, only flood control," he said.

"And so these are things that perhaps we need to rethink a little bit, because we're going to be seeing both. And we have to have water management systems that have dual purposes to them, and it's very difficult to design and operate water control systems that way."

Farmers in southern Alberta are already bracing for what could be a tough growing season.

"We haven't had any rain so it's getting really dry," said Lynn Jacobson, the president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture who has a grain and oilseeds farm near Enchant, Alta.

Jacobson says many farmers are starting to irrigate much earlier than usual. He says if it doesn't start raining in the next few days, he intends to haul out the sprinklers as well.

Pomeroy says the snow pack is unusually low this year and the early melt could lead to low stream flow levels this summer.

"Ironically, the reservoirs that would normally start to hold a lot of water this year are being operated partly for flood control, so they're being kept very low so they can hold potential flood waters," he said.

"But that means if we do start to enter into a drought situation there's much less we can do with those same reservoirs to alleviate the drought."