July 24th, 2024

South Saskatchewan River level still low despite May’s near-record rains

By Medicine Hat News on June 14, 2024.

Water flow and levels from the river monitoring station at Medicine Hat are shown as provided by the Ministry of Environment and Protected Places. Top graph includes the typical range with upper and lower quartiles.--Supplied Image


Despite a bump from heavy rain in May, the South Saskatchewan River is flowing well below normal levels for June, where it will likely stay, according to forecasters as reservoir managers continue to hold back water.

Alberta Environment’s water supply outlook for June still predicts a below to “much below” flow on the river running through Medicine Hat in the May to September time frame.

The recorded flow at the Medicine Hat river level station on Thursday morning was about 72 cubic metres per second – about half the flow recorded on June 1.

That compares to a typical range of flow at this time of year between 200 and nearly 700 cubic metres per second. Flow traditionally peaks at as much as 800 in non flood years in the third week of June.

The mountain snowpack that feeds the Bow and Oldman river basins was also generally low, compared to average, measured at June 1, with the situation worse for Oldman tributaries.

The largest reservoirs on the South Saskatchewan system continue to make gain.

The Eastern Irrigation District stated that “all reservoirs are maintaining a steady level,” including Lake Newell, Rolling Hills and Crawling Valley Reservoirs, in a message to members on May 30, the one-month mark of irrigation season opening.

Lake Newell was 95 per cent full, according to the June 13 provincial storage summary,

The Oldman Reservoir was 84 per cent full, though still below June 2023 levels.

Lake McGregor (94 per cent), St. Mary Reservoir (79 per cent) and Travers Reservoir (99 per cent) were all above the 2023 marks.

Downstream of Medicine Hat, the Saskatchewan Water Agency continues to fill Lake Diefenbaker.

It passed its historic average on May 15, according to a SWA release at that time, and recent readings show it continues to take in more than it releases.

Reservoirs nearest Maple Creek still have room at that point, but others in the southwest were approaching capacity.

“While rainfall was significant in the southwest parts of the province (in May), this area had well below moisture levels going into freeze-up last fall and at the start of the spring runoff this year,” a bulletin states.

“In response to drier than normal conditions from last year, WSA is storing and retaining more water in the province’s major reservoirs.”

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