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Why Okanagan snowpack levels might not be as high as early measurements suggest

A malfunctioning gauge may have resulted in excessively high snowpack readings for the Okanagan last month.
Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
February 04, 2021 - 8:00 PM

A gauge malfunction measuring an important Okanagan watershed could have resulted in false high readings for the January snowpack.

Shaun Reimer of Ministry of Forests and Lands says the problem was noticed and corrected earlier this week.

“I had concerns about the high readings from the Mission Creek snow station, but they didn’t seem surprising, since we had that early October snow,” Reimer says.

Inspectors encountered a problem with the gauge, made repairs and recalibrated it on Tuesday. The readings for snow water equivalent – actual moisture in the snow – have since declined somewhat.

Reimer says readings are still above average at the station but not as high as they were prior to Tuesday. He says a clearer picture of Okanagan snowpack levels will be available next week when the monthly river forecast figures are released.

“We’ll see where it’s at. Mission Creek is one of our main gauges for Okanagan Lake,” he says.

February's River Forecast Data is generally the information that provides him with his 'marching orders' for controlling the spring freshet.

Reimer says to this point he’s taken a conservative approach to water levels on the lake this year, following three high water years out of the last four.

“I’m scheduling to be below monthly targets. We’ll be increasing outflows through the dam into the Okanagan River Channel in Penticton on Monday. We still have some fishery issues to work through, but flood control is first and foremost,” he says.

The River Forecast Centre’s most recent update says Okanagan snowpack levels were at 113 per cent of normal on Feb. 1, with the North Thompson at 109 per cent and the South Thompson at 103 per cent.

The Similkameen snowpack was measured at 106 per cent of normal.

A stormy first half of January was followed by a relatively dry and cool second half, which resulted in a provincial decrease in average snowpack readings from 122 per cent in December to 109 per cent as of Feb. 1.

The next River Forecast update is scheduled for release on Feb. 9.

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