By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The first glimpse at potential water supply next spring is not promising, but forecasters note could improve with normal precipitation levels soon.
Snow accumulations on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains that feed the head water of the Bow, Oldman and Milk rivers are considered to be much below to below average, according to Alberta Environment’s first water supply outlook report of 2024, released Jan. 8.
If that continues, it will affect next spring’s water levels in reservoirs that scrambled to refill in the autumn following drought conditions in southern Alberta.
The supply outlook report shows a limited sampling of sites where the snow pillow is currently one of the smallest on record, about half of long-term average in some locations.
A full survey is done in January, and in February the ministry also releases the plains snowpack data in the Cypress Hills and then general areas in March and April.
The Alberta government says it will lead working group discussions this winter on contingency planning if, as generally expected in an El Nino weather cycle, precipitation remains low.
In late December, the St. Mary River Irrigation District announced it will provide members with its own monthly analysis of expected conditions as crop and seeding decisions are made in late February and March.
The first was expected Jan. 15, then mid-month thereafter until the allocation is determined near the district’s annual general meeting at the start of April.
“The success of our irrigation season hinges on above-average winter snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and timely rains in the spring and summer of 2024 to replenish our current low water supply levels,” reads a letter to members from board chair George Lohues.
“To ensure that all irrigators within the SMRID are adequately prepared, we strongly advise each member to commence planning their crops considering the possibility of not receiving a full allocation of water per acre for the 2024 irrigation season.”