Edmonton

Expert sees Alberta water shortage looming

The Canadian Prairies are likely to face a severe drought within the next couple of decades, and Alberta should be limiting the number of people who move there, according to a report by two Canadian experts on water.

The Canadian Prairies are likely to face a severe drought within the next couple of decades, and Alberta should be limiting the number of people who move there, according to a report by two Canadian experts on water.

Dr. David Schindler, an ecology professor at the University of Alberta, says future droughts will likely be far worse than the ones that turned the prairies into a dust bowl in the 1930s.

He says Alberta's booming economy and rapid growth have made it the province most vulnerable to looming water shortages.

Schindler co-authored the study with W.F. Donahue, and it was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Their study indicates that water levels in the rivers of Alberta have declined 20 to 84 per cent in the last 100 years.

Waterways in central and southern Alberta have seen the biggest declines.

Schindler says Albertans get most of their water from these rivers. But, he says, it's also bad news for the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or anywhere else downstream, because it means a lot less water for them. He says river beds are already drying up downstream.

Alberta's environment minister, Guy Boutilier, recognizes there's a problem. He says people in Alberta will have to reduce water use by a third within the next seven years.

Boutilier says Albertans need to start turning off the taps now.

"So that 30 per cent improvement is something that I'm looking [to get] help by citizens, and also working in partnership with government."

Boutilier says he recognizes that, if water use isn't reduced, it could lead to fights between Prairie provinces as the irreplaceable resource dries up.

Schindler says Alberta should be limiting the number of industries and residents that are allowed to move there.

The report says, "Continued development [in Alberta] has caused rapid immigration from other parts of Canada and abroad, and even more rapid increases in freshwater use."

Schindler warns that the drought in the 1930s was relatively mild when looked at in historical context.

He says dry periods before that occurred several times a century, and typically lasted several decades.

He says, if climate reverts back to drier conditions and global warming continues, parts of the Prairies that are already dry will probably begin to resemble the near-desert conditions in the U.S. West.

now