Water shortages

Learn about water shortages and what you can do to protect yourself and others.


A water shortage is a loss of water, lasting minutes, days or longer and can affect a single property, a building, a community or an entire region.

Water shortages happen for a variety of reasons and vary in duration. Common short-term, localized water shortages include planned utility repairs and maintenance or unexpected utility repairs to fix pipe breaks. Other reasons could include drought conditions or pipe damage due to extreme temperature fluctuations.

Practice water conservation

Building water reduction habits into daily routines will help you navigate shortages more easily, reduce your environmental footprint and decrease your utility costs.


  • Indoor tips

    • Turn off water while soaping hands, brushing teeth, etc.
    • Instead of pouring water down the drain, repurpose it for things like watering plants.
    • Run appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines, only when the load is full.
    • Check for toilet leaks by adding a few drops of food colouring into the tank. If you have a leak, the colour will appear in the bowl within 30 minutes.
    • Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator instead of in water.
  • Outdoor tips

    • Water when it is coolest (early morning or late evening).
    • Direct downspout runoff into landscaped areas. Make sure the water is not directed at your foundation.
    • Plant drought-tolerant ground covers, shrubs and trees.
    • Visit FireSmart for at-home fire risk reduction tips.

Before a shortage

Water is an essential service. Stop a water shortage from becoming an emergency by preparing and conserving every day to ensure you have water for drinking, cooking, hygiene and fire prevention.

  • What to do

    • Know your risks. Many parts of Alberta are prone to drought conditions, which can affect water availability and quality.
    • Get informed. Download apps like WeatherCAN, Alberta Rivers: Data and advisories and other alerting apps.
    • Sign up for notifications and communications from your bulk water station/truck fill, water supplier, utility provider and local/provincial governments as information helps you make informed and timely decisions.
    • Gather supplies to last a minimum of 72 hours. Prioritize supplies that meet the unique needs of your household, including:
      • bottled water for drinking, cooking and hygiene (4 litres per person per day – gather more for pregnant women, those with illnesses and pets)
      • non-perishable food that does not need water
      • fire extinguisher
      • hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaners
      • recyclable plates and utensils
      • bucket for non-potable water to flush toilets
  • Make a water shortage plan

    • Build a contact list that includes:
      • your water service provider
      • emergency plumbers
      • emergency services
    • Check 211 Alberta for information, resources and supports available in your area.
    • Write down supports and services offered in your area, including how to access them if needed.
    • Create an Alberta.ca Account to get online access to government services and programs.
    • Draw a map to identify the location of the main water shut-off valve on your property:
      • List individual fixtures and appliances that have independent water valves and include instructions on how to turn them off and on.
      • Include household members so everyone knows how to turn off the water.

Storing water for emergencies

Prepare for shortages by storing a supply of water to meet the needs of your household. General guidance for water is 4 litres of water per person per day for 3 days. However, shortages can last longer. Store as much water as your storage space allows.

  • Choose your container

    • If possible, use FDA/Health Canada regulated food-grade water storage containers.
    • If food-grade is not an option, use a durable, unbreakable container with a tight-fitting lid and narrow opening for pouring.
  • Prepare and clean your container

    • Wash with soap and rinse well.
    • Fill container with a solution of 4 cups water to 1-teaspoon chlorine bleach (5%-9% sodium hypochlorite).
    • Close the lid tightly and shake the mixture well.
    • Wait 30 seconds and then pour the solution out.
    • Air dry before filling.
    • Pour clean water into the containers and seal.
  • Store your water

    • Label containers with “drinking water” and add the date it was stored along with the refresh date (every 6 months).
    • Store in a cool location away from direct sunlight and chemicals (10°C to 20 °C).
  • Use your water

    • If your container does not pour, use a clean scooper each time you remove water.
    • Seal the lid tightly after every use.

Water restrictions

A water supplier or utility provider may issue a localized water restriction on non-essential water use. Restrictions will vary on the situation, but could include:

  • closing public swimming pools and outdoor spray parks
  • lawn watering
  • washing vehicles
  • Indoor tips

    • Limit showers to one quick shower per day (if needed). Avoid baths, except for small children who only need a few inches of water.
    • Do not run appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. Use recyclable plates and cutlery instead. Wear non-soiled clothing more than once before.
    • Use non-potable water for flushing toilets (for example, fill a bucket with water and pour directly into the toilet bowl).
  • Outdoor tips

    • Use captured water from rain barrel(s) for outdoor watering and do not water unless permitted. Follow the watering schedule if applicable.
    • Do not wash vehicles at home. Use a cleaning product to clean the windows and headlights/taillights only for safety.
    • Use a broom instead of water for cleaning.

During a shortage

When shortages occur, they affect each of us differently. Not only are they a major inconvenience, but they can threaten our health and wellbeing when they impact access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation needs like hygiene and flushing toilets.

  • What to do

    • If you receive notice of a scheduled water shortage and you do not have supplies gathered, go to your local store as soon as possible to get what you need.
    • If directed by your water supplier or utility provider to shut-off the main water supply to your property:
      • Locate the main water valve inside your property. It is usually located in the basement or cellar, close to where the main water line enters your property and on the same water line as the water meter.
      • Turn the handle on the shut-off valve so that it is perpendicular to the water line (across the water line, not in line). If the shut-off valve has a knob, turn the knob clockwise (to the right) until you cannot turn it anymore.
      • Once the valve is off, turn all the water taps on to release remaining water pressure.
      • After releasing the pressure, flush all toilets to empty the tanks.
  • Know the risk

    • Toilet paper absorbs water and can cause back-ups. Reduce the risk of damage when water is off by putting used toilet paper in a waste bag.
  • Staying informed

    • Stay informed by monitoring your trusted communication channels and information sources for updates on restrictions for your area. The instructions will be specific to your situation.
  • Helping others

    • Start a conversation with community members by discussing local updates on water restrictions.
    • Build resilient communities by sharing water shortage tips and learning about the actions others are taking to meet their needs.
    • Check in on those who may need extra help.

After a shortage

If you turned off your main water shut-off valve, the following steps can help you restore your home’s water supply.

  • What to do

    • Turn on all hot and cold water taps. This releases trapped air in the water supply lines.
    • Turn the main water shut-off valve on. Turn the handle so that it is in line with the main water line or turn the knob counterclockwise (to the left) until you cannot turn it anymore.
    • Turn off the hot water taps and let the cold water taps run for at least 5 minutes. Look for clear, cold water to indicate you have flushed bad water out of the pipes.
    • After 5 minutes if the water is not running clear and cold, turn off the water taps and wait a couple of hours.
    • After a couple hours, test the water using the cold water tap in your bathtub or shower. If it is not running clear and cold, turn off the water tap and call your water supplier or utility provider for next steps.
  • Prevent further damage

    • Reduce the risk of damaging appliances by not operating them until the cold water runs clear and cold.
    • Discard ice produced by your refrigerator.


Education material you can read, print and download to share online and within your community.


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Connect with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Phone: 780-422-9000
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)
Email: [email protected]

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