Water Survey of Canada looking after South Saskatchewan River levels

By Hayley Ferguson
May 29, 2019 - 5:33pm Updated: May 29, 2019 - 7:04pm


Medicine Hat, AB - Canada’s lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands hold 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water.

It’s Water Survey of Canada’s job to keep track of all of it.

The branch of Environment Canada is responsible for over 2,000 stations across the country including 21 around Medicine Hat.

Curtis Waiting, who is a hydrometric supervisor with Water Survey, covered the area for many years.

“We collect water level data and discharge. And you can see in the background here, Will is taking a measurement and he’s collecting depth, width, and velocity which we can calculate discharge from,” he said.

The discharge that the technologists calculate is actually the amount of water flowing through the river

When the technologists aren’t there in person, levels are continued to be monitored through loggers that are always running and sending information to their office in Calgary.

“In the monitoring gauge upstream here, we have a data logger connected to a float sensor. So there’s intake pipes that come in from the creek into our well,” explained Waiting. “So the water level from the creek is going up and down the same in the well as the same as it is in the creek.”

On average, stations are visited every four to six weeks but techs will visit more during peak seasons.

“June for example, when we have the mountain run off. We’ll be down maybe if we have a higher flow situation. We would be down here to measure and capture that.” Waiting said.

There are two stations right in town, including the South Saskatchewan River near city Hall which was officially established in 1911 and the Seven Persons Creek in Kin Coulee Park.

The data that they collect is used for a variety of reasons including irrigation, transportation and navigation, water supply studies, flood plain management, and environmental impact studies.

“One is the operation of infrastructure. So damns and operations. When to open the floodgates and not, reservoir management. So they use our data for how much water is coming downstream, what they can expect. What the reservoir level is and how to manage that. And protect property and life.”

One of the most noticeable usages is by the Alberta Environment’s River Forecast Centre. Water Survey had techs monitoring the south Saskatchewan during the 2013 floods collecting real time information and water levels.

“We had staff deployed, our provincial partners had staff deployed. And we were sort of in the war room sending our staff where they needed to go, where the most valuable information would be. Where we needed to verify water levels and discharges.” Waiting continued “For the flood forecast centre, we’re sort of their eyes on the ground.”

Although they don't do the actual forecasting themselves, Waiting says the South Saskatchewan looks in good condition this year.

“This year we haven’t had the temperatures, we’re getting them now today is beautiful day, but it’s been sort of a slower melt and the snow pack is. I just looked yesterday, it’s kind of average to below average.”


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