Battler River running 30 per cent below normal flow

Low running Battle River a cause for concern for Ponoka County councillors.

While the town of Ponoka and Ponoka County has not been as hard hit by the dry spring and summer as other areas of the country, they are not fully exempt from the effects.

The Government of Alberta Environment and Parks has released a Battle River Basin low flow advisory, stating the water flow levels for the entirety of the river have dropped approximately 30 per cent below normal.

We get our water from the City of Red Deer, Red Deer River, and so there won’t be an impact on Town water supplies,” said town communications officer Donna Brinkworth.

She adds this does not mean the town is turning a blind eye to the situation. “We do care about the Battle River’s health and are in a partnership with them (Battle River Watershed Alliance) for Ponoka Riparian Restoration Program.”

Susanna Bruneau, stewardship co-ordinator with the Battle River Watershed Alliance, says the communities along the river will be impacted at varying degrees depending on how they use the water.

“There’s always lots of impacts low water can involve, depending on what industries are involved,” said Bruneau.

Some businesses have licenses to pull water from the river and some communities also get their water from the Battle River. “Other communities like Wetaskiwin and Camrose can see water restrictions,” said Bruneau.

While Ponoka does not pull its water from the river, people may still feel the effect as the river valley is affected.

“I think right now we have an overall lack of precipitation this spring and summer,” said Bruneau. She says this catalyst will also affect those not in the immediate area of the river as conditions dry.

The watershed, riparian areas and animal life will also feel the stress of the water shortage. “Aquatic ecosystems can definitely have a harder time,” said Bruneau.

“Usually it is not permanent,” she added.

However, if a drought becomes severe enough, Bruneau says river valleys and watersheds can be affected for years to come. Grasses and smaller shrubs can die first, then the larger trees. “You can see some die-off, especially in some of the bigger, older trees.”

“The stress, it acts a bit slower. They kind of die off in a few years,” Bruneau explained. “How long term it is depends on how severe it is.”

Another group that will be largely impacted by the low flow of the Battle River will be the farmers and agriculturalists that use the water for their operations. “They’re definitely feeling the crunch at this time,” said Bruneau.

Ponoka County assistant CAO Tom Webber says while the county organization itself does not use the Battle River for water, a main concern is how the farmers will be affected.

“A lot of people rely on the river to water cattle,” said Webber.

He added if the river gets too low, cattle begin to cross it and that creates a whole new set of problems.

The biggest action people can take to help alleviate the situation is to remain alert of their water uses. “Conserving water is always a good thing,” said Bruneau.