Rocky Mountains’ snowpack levels still 20% below normal: Alberta Environment

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s mountain snowpack still 20% below normal'
Alberta’s mountain snowpack still 20% below normal
WATCH: Snowpack in the Bow Valley plays a critical role in avoiding drought: not only for drinking water, but also for irrigation in southern Alberta. To get a closer look at just how much snowmelt we'll be working with this season, Sarah Offin takes us high into the alpine, where water monitoring specialists are digging deep. – Apr 30, 2024

Once a month in the spring and winter, water monitoring technologists with Alberta Environment and Protected Areas journey high into Alberta’s alpine to assess just how much snow will be coming downstream during spring runoff season.

“We would like to be above average, so we can fill reservoirs so there’s more water flowing downstream,” said technologist Dennis Rollag during April’s flight up into the mountains.

The technicians fly over a vast mountain range — where typically only wildlife roam — to test the 10 sites by hand.

Working in pairs with a chartered helicopter pilot, the researchers travel deep into the backcountry, measuring the snow for depth and density.

The technologists trudged through the snow, sometimes needing cross-country skis to avoid sinking into slush.

They used a tube to check the height of the snow. Each station is tested several times to ensure the reading is correct.

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“We have snow courses that are in the exact same spot. A lot of them here in the Banff area where they’ve been here for 70-plus years,” Rollag said.

The data collected is used by operations staff for managing reservoir levels and other water management.

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It is also used for flood forecasting.

Between the various sites, the takeaway is mostly the same: despite recent snowfall, the snowpack in the Bow Valley is still about 20 per cent below normal for this time of year.

“I think we were at about 60 per cent before the snow in March. So, we were really low,” said Rollag. “But we expect most of the snow in the spring.”

It comes as Alberta enters historic water-sharing agreements this spring, anticipating severe drought conditions and the likelihood for water restrictions and fire bans throughout the summer months.

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Click to play video: 'Southern Alberta stakeholders sign historic water-sharing agreement'
Southern Alberta stakeholders sign historic water-sharing agreement

“A higher snowpack would definitely give us more water to put in the reservoirs. Some of them are very low,” Rollag said.

The Alberta government is also taking the added step of collecting snow samples this year, which will be used for isotope testing.

“The isotopic analysis will help characterize snow isotopic signatures so we can try to recognize the snowmelt component in groundwater recharge and surface runoff.  Essentially, it helps us understand the hydrologic cycle in the alpine environment, and how long water spends in different parts of the cycle,” the ministry of Alberta Environment and Protected Areas said in a statement.

Snowpack monitoring will continue into June. Alberta usually sees most of its snowfall during the spring months.

— With files from Adam MacVicar, Global News


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