Morden restricts water usage as severe drought grips southern Manitoba city

A dry fall, winter and now spring have taken a toll in southern Manitoba, where the City of Morden says it is experiencing a severe drought and imploring people to conserve water.

The current level of Lake Minnewasta, the source of Morden’s water, is nearly seven feet (just over two metres) below the full supply level, the city said in a notice posted on its website.

Mayor Brandon Burley said levels that low have not been seen in the city, roughly 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, since 1983.

“In terms of recent history, it’s unprecedented,” he said, noting islands are “popping out” of Lake Minnewasta.

“If the current average precipitation that we’ve experienced over the past four years holds true for this year, we won’t have enough ability to treat water by the end of summer — we’ll be 16.5 feet below the dam level.”

The severe drought stage begins when water levels drop 5.5 feet (1.68 metres) below the usual full supply level.

As a result, the city has implemented a drought response, instructing residents and businesses in the city of roughly 8,700 on how to scale back their water usage. The aim is to reduce peak water usage by 25 per cent.

The City of Morden posted this on its website, outlining recommended and mandatory measures to reduce water usage. (City of Morden)

“We are trying to get ahead of it [the dire summer prediction] and are looking to our community for help in reducing water consumption,” Burley said.

A mandatory ban on watering lawns or landscaping is in place, while garden watering is only allowed twice a week, with designated days for odd and even house numbers.

Splash pads and pools are not allowed to operate with Morden-sourced water and farmers cannot irrigate unless they have a permit to pump from a raw water station.

Recreational activities have also been scaled back for Lake Minnewasta, with all motor-powered watercraft prohibited until things improve.

“It’s very, very difficult to treat the water when silt and everything at the bottom of the lake is stirred up into the drinking water,” Burley said, adding there are also several voluntary restrictions the city hopes people will honour.

The drought mitigation plan was approved about three weeks ago by council but did not take effect at that point, Burley said.

The city was optimistic about a forecast around that time which promised “an awful lot of rain,” but that did not materialize, he said.

“So we have to bring it into effect now.”

If the needed precipitation comes, the restrictions will be lifted. But there needs to be a lot of rain, Burley said.

“It’s not like if we get rain quickly it will remedy the situation. The ground is so dry,” he said.

The city received just under an inch of rain on the weekend and within about two hours the ground was bone dry again, he said.

“So it’s going to take a lot of steady rain. If that doesn’t happen we’re in fairly big trouble.”