‘Gut punch’: As Crowsnest River runs dry, Pincher Creek forced to dig for water

Continued dry conditions raise alarm for all who rely on Oldman River basin, group says.

The river, an essential source for the South Saskatchewan River system, ran dry Thursday upstream of the village of Cowley, the group Crowsnest Headwaters said in a news release.

Now unable to extract water from its intake pipe, the Municipal District of Pincher Creek has dug a pit in the river bottom to take subsurface water by truck and emergency pipes, it says.

“This is more than a wake-up call,” said Crowsnest Headwaters communications co-ordinator David Thomas. “It’s a gut punch for residents, ranchers, First Nations communities and everyone who depends on water from the Oldman River system.”

The Crowsnest River has its source in the Rockies and meanders through southwestern Alberta until it feeds into the Oldman River near Lundbreck, about 100 kilometres west of Lethbridge. The Oldman River eventually merges with the Bow River east of Calgary to form the South Saskatchewan River.

Crowsnest River
The Crowsnest River valley just upstream of where the river enters the Oldman Reservoir, north of Lundbreck, Alberta, on Monday, December 18, 2023.Mike Drew/Postmedia

Residents and businesses in southern Alberta communities, including Lethbridge, Fort Macleod, and the Piikani and Kainai First Nations, rely on water from the Oldman River basin. But the Oldman River is at about one-third of its normal flow, and the Oldman Reservoir is currently at 30 per cent of capacity, well below normal levels for this time of year.

The Alberta government is currently in Stage 4 out of five in its water shortage management response plan, and there are currently 51 water shortage advisories across the province. In preparation for a drought this year, the Alberta government has started talks on water-sharing between large users.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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