Important Notice: 2024 Irrigation Season Water Supply Update

Dec 22, 2023

Dear Irrigators,

We would like to inform you of our water supply level as of December 18, 2023 based on the most recent information obtained from Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation. The current storage levels in the District’s reservoirs are at 136,000 acre-feet, which represents 43% of the Full Supply Limit (FSL) irrigation storage volume. Additionally, the Headworks reservoirs have experienced minor gains since their shutdown, resulting in a combined storage of 118,000 acre-feet, equivalent to 25% of the FSL. The current total of all of the storage in the St. Mary Project reservoirs is 31% of FSL. Please note we target our winter storage levels at a lower amount than FSL to accommodate spring run off and precipitation events. We are currently at 42% of our combined Headworks and District reservoirs winter storage target levels.

As you can see from the below Combined Irrigation Storage for the Headworks reservoirs, the June 2023 storage volume was between the upper and lower Quartiles for historical storage levels. The water supply then sharply declined to meet irrigation demand resulting from our early spring heat and lack of rainfall.

Despite early season snowfall contributing to average snow water equivalent levels across all three snow pillows at the end of November, unseasonably warm temperatures in December have caused a reduction in the snowpack. The runoff from this decline is being captured in the St Mary and Waterton reservoirs.

As you can see from the below Snow Pillow charts the majority of the snowfall is not received until February – April in a normal year. We have yet to receive our meaningful snowfall.
Snow Pillow information can be monitored at Alberta Environment and Parks

The Board of Directors of the St. Mary River Irrigation District (SMRID) will be meeting with Alberta Environment and Protected Areas in early January to initiate planning for potential drought conditions during the upcoming 2024 irrigation season.
The success of our irrigation season hinges on above-average winter snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and timely rains in the spring and summer of 2024 to replenish our current low water supply levels. To ensure that all irrigators within the SMRID are adequately prepared, we strongly advise each member to commence planning their crops considering the possibility of not receiving a full allocation of water per acre for the 2024 irrigation season.
We will be closely monitoring the snowpack and precipitation levels over the next four months and will keep you updated on any developments on the following dates:

January 19, 2024
February 15, 2024
March 15, 2024
April 3, 2024 (AGM)

As irrigation farmers in Southern Alberta, we are aware of the extreme variability of our weather. We can look back to 2001/2002 to remember how the drought and low water supplies, that were very similar to what we are looking at today, were wiped out with one heavy rainfall event in June of 2002. As we enter the Christmas season let’s hope for something similar in 2024. It is far too early to predict what the water allocation will be as the meaningful snow falls in February, March and April. As the irrigation season draws nearer, we will be using data provided by Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation, as we always do, to come up with the initial allocation. As farmers we cannot control the weather, yet we are confident that our farmers are innovative and adaptable and will find a way to grow a successful crop in 2024.
On behalf of the Board of Directors and all the staff at the SMRID, I would like to wish you all the best this holiday season and a happy and successful New Year.

George Lohues
The Board of Directors, St. Mary River Irrigation District