Authorities warn Otonabee Region watershed in Peterborough area nears possible drought this spring

Otonabee Conservation in Peterborough warns of potential drought-like conditions this spring in the area's watershed. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press file

Water conservation authorities in Peterborough warn the Otonabee Region watershed is “inching closer” to a possible drought this spring.

On Monday, the Otonabee Conservation noted that unlike most years, the 2021 freshet —  when warmer temperatures trigger significant meltwater run-off — was one month earlier than normal. That prompted a flood watch to be issued on March 19 which was cancelled on April 7.

Now, officials say it’s unlikely there will be any type of flood warnings this spring. The watershed includes Peterborough, the City of Kawartha Lakes and the townships of Selwyn, Douro-Dummer, Asphodel-Norwood, Otonabee-South Monaghan and Cavan Monaghan, and the Municipality of Trent Hills.

Read more: A mild spring is in the forecast for Peterborough area

“In my 20 years with Otonabee Conservation, not issuing a flood warning during the annual spring freshet is unprecedented,” states Gordon Earle, water resources technologist.

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“And, we are now approaching the possibility of a low-water situation this spring.”

Despite rain in the forecast all this week, Earle says water level and precipitation data provides a different story. So far, data in 2021 shows that January and February saw below normal snowfall event, he notes.

In February, streamflow levels in Peterborough’s Jackson Creek averaged 70 per cent below the historical average, and March’s precipitations receipts across the watershed were 20 per cent below the 30-year normal.

“This year, we also experienced average daily air temperatures in March, which were 2.4 degrees (Celsius) warmer than our 30-year normal,” said Earle. “That led to an earlier-than-normal snow melt and ground thaw and that’s why the spring freshet came and went in March.”

Earle says indications of an approaching drought were evident in 2020 since it was warmer than normal with the average annual air temperature 1.24 C warmer than the long-term annual average, which dates back 153 years to the year of Confederation (1867).

“In fact, last year, we experienced 23 days when the daytime high air temperature reached 30 degrees or higher and the long-term median is only 11 days,” he said.

He says 2020 also saw annual precipitation totals that were 15 per cent drier than normal — all months except January and August were drier than normal.

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“With 2020 being warmer and drier than normal, paired with inadequate snowfall this past winter, and the freshet having already come and gone this year, we are entering a potential upcoming drought situation,” he said.

Residents can also learn more about Otonabee Conservation’s low water response program at its website.

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