Gleniffer Reservoir water levels have been allowed to drop very low in anticipation of snow melt from a deeper-than-usual snow pack.

Flooding hard to predict

Gleniffer Reservoir is a shadow of its usual self right now. The water level has dropped so low large stretches of gravel bottom are exposed. There’s a good reason that water levels are a good two metres lower than this time last year, said Rick Friedl, a regional manager with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

DICKSON DAM — Gleniffer Reservoir is a shadow of its usual self right now.

The water level has dropped so low large stretches of gravel bottom are exposed.

There’s a good reason that water levels are a good two metres lower than this time last year, said Rick Friedl, a regional manager with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

“This year the snow pack levels that we have upstream of the Dickson Dam are fairly high, so you’ll see the reservoir a little bit lower,” said Friedl, at a Wednesday open house at the dam 20 km west of Innisfail.

The snow pack measured at Limestone Ridge, west of Caroline, is 360 mm of water equivalent, far above the normal range of 160 mm to 230 mm.

That doesn’t mean flooding is on the way. Snow melt alone is rarely enough to cause floods, said Friedl.

“We need to have precipitation of significant amounts to actually cause a flood.”

Friedl said it’s “impossible to say” if those rains will come this year as they did last June.

“You can’t really forecast that.

“That’s just like weather forecasting a month or two or three weeks from now. You just can’t do that.”

Dam operators can’t usually count on much more than a couple of days warning that potential flood volumes of water are coming. A number of factors dictate how much water to let flow through the dam, not the least of which is the impact on downstream property owners.

“We’re very conscious of the properties that are down there and we’re trying to be sensitive to that when we’re making operational decisions.

“Having said that we need to do what we need to do for the safety of the dam.”

Pete Kitson, who is among more than 600 property owners at Carefree Resorts on the reservoir, questioned officials about the low water levels that won’t allow the resort’s water intake to draw properly.

If the water was only a metre higher, the resort could pump water and wouldn’t have to truck it in.

Such low water levels are also hard on fisheries, he said.

“I needed confirmation on things that didn’t make that much sense to me,” he said, after speaking with officials.

He was “somewhat satisfied” with the answers he got and was pleased to hear that water levels will likely rise in the next few days.

Kitson said he’s well aware the province is not operating the reservoir for resort residents and recreational users, but many area property owners aren’t as clear what to expect from the reservoir.

Provincial officials would have been better off holding the open house on a weekend, when the resorts are busy.

“If this had been a weekend they probably wouldn’t have had standing room in there,” he said.

Innisfail’s Kevin White was prompted to come to the open house after the experience last summer of helping a buddy frantically load his belongings on horse trailers ahead of rising river waters.

“We were in a paddle boat emptying out his yard,” said White, whose friend owns property near the Innisfail bridge and had to clean out the same home ahead of the 2005 floods as well.

He wanted answers on what is being done to prevent a repeat this year.

“I just don’t want to see that same thing happen.”

A similar open house is set for Oldman Dam in southern Alberta today.

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