/Water levels normal for now, but climate change may make for an unpredictable summer

Water levels normal for now, but climate change may make for an unpredictable summer

By Stephen Petrick

The Gull River has given Minden residents some harsh springs – think 2013 and 2017 when the river swelled up and engulfed roads and homes – but this isn’t expected to be one of them.

“There’s no reason to believe there’s any immediate risk of flooding,” said Ted Spence, Chair of the Coalition of Equitable Water Flow, a volunteer organization that watches water levels along the Trent River Watershed, which includes Gull River.

However, that news should be taken with caution, especially for people whose livelihood is dependent on decent weather. Although Spence says that water levels along the watershed are “normal” for this time of year, climate change is leading to more extreme weather events – and an uneventful spring doesn’t necessarily mean an uneventful summer.

“In the short term, we know we’re seeing much more variability in weather patterns, and extreme events,” said Spence, who was previously an environmental studies professor at York University.

As an example, he pointed to last summer. Water levels along the watershed were low for most of June, but late in the month, there were several major rainy days and by the end of the month the amount of recorded rain in the area in June was up more than 150 per cent compared to normal. He said the rainfall in July was about double the normal level and in September it was almost double.

“Those are real examples of the short-term impacts (of climate change). Instead of getting a little rain every week, it’s more likely we get periods of dry and then, whoomph.

Despite this warning, nothing extreme appears to be happening so far this spring. Spence said the 55 reservoir lakes that make up the Trent River watershed appeared to be at normal levels last week and dam operators are monitoring the levels. Dams are typically filled to 85 per cent of their volume in the early spring, so to allow room for rain water.

Spence said in the coming days, the last of the ice in the waterway is expected to melt and most of the snow on land is already gone. The runoff of snow into the river hasn’t overwhelmed the watershed this year, because there have been enough plus-zero days this spring to allow for some snow to disappear through sublimation, too, Spence said.

“If there’s any issue, it’s that we’re going to be depending on spring rain to fill reservoirs.”