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Water levels in Red Deer River well below average

With this year’s mountain snowpack long gone, the Red Deer River will have to depend on summer rains for replenishment.

With this year’s mountain snowpack long gone, the Red Deer River will have to depend on summer rains for replenishment.

More often than not in June, as the snowpack melt hits full stride, water levels in the Red Deer River are much higher — but not this year. The result is a much below average water supply outlook for the river.

Alberta Environment’s water supply volume forecast from June 1 to Sept. 30 at Red Deer is 66 per cent of average.

River and reservoir levels are now dependent upon rain, Jason Penner, public affairs officer with Alberta Environment and Parks, said Thursday.

The Red Deer River at Red Deer is running at only 18 cubic metres per second, well below the normal range for this time of year.

The river flow is controlled by Dickson Dam, which stores water in Gleniffer Lake. The giant reservoir is used to maintain enough water flow to meet needs of users downstream, especially during the winter months.

It is only 75 per cent full right now, putting it at the lower end of normal for this time of year.

Over the last few days they’ve kept the outflow at the dam lower than what is coming into the dam upstream, but the trend is that those inflows will start dropping off, Penner said.

“So that’s the problem and it all comes back to, will we get some rain in that upper part of the basin that can basically backfill what’s going out the other end?”

Although the flows at Red Deer are below normal, they are sufficient to meet the needs of water users and ensure a healthy aquatic environment, he said.

Beyond rainfall, there’s also the issue of temperature, which during low river levels can cause problems for fish and other aquatic life. But with more or less normal daytime highs and cooler evenings lately, it really hasn’t heated up the water much.

“Of course that can change. If we end up with a stretch of 30 degrees for five or six days in a row, that situation could change,” Penner said.

The City of Red Deer is encouraging residents a month earlier than last year to be proactive in water conservation.

The city is also working on a water rationing policy that will kick in when triggered by different circumstances, such as reservoir and river levels and drought. Different phases will involve increasingly stronger restrictions, such as odd/even watering days, specified watering hours, watering restrictions and watering bans.