Water Supply Outlook March 2016

Updated: March 8, 2016

Mountain runoff forecasts (natural volumes for March to September 2016)

Milk River basin
  • Below average
Oldman River basin
  • Below average
Bow River basin
  • Below average for Lake Minnewanka and Highwood River
  • Average for the Bow River at Banff and Calgary, Spray River near Banff, Kananaskis River and Elbow River
Red Deer River basin
  • Below average
North Saskatchewan River basin
  • Below average

Precipitation can have a major impact on water supply between now and the end of September. The forecasts above assume that precipitation over the remainder of the winter period and through the summer will be normal. The range of possible precipitation scenarios is large however, and as a result, probable range forecasts and a minimal precipitation forecast of natural runoff volume are also provided for each individual basin. Since more information becomes known over time, forecast ranges will narrow. Streamflow volume forecasts are updated monthly from February to May, and again in July.

Check our Forecaster's Comments throughout the month for updated information regarding runoff conditions.

Mountain snowpack

Snow accumulations measured in the mountains as of March 1, 2016:

  • Oldman River basin: Ranging from much below average (13% of average at Lee Creek) to average (94% of average at South Racehorse Creek).
  • Bow River basin: Ranging from below average (81% of average at Highwood Summit Bush and Wilkinson Summit Bush) to much above average (126% of average at Mist Creek).
  • Red Deer, North Saskatchewan, Athabasca River basins:

    Highly variable in the North Saskatchewan River basin, much below average (33% of average at Nordegg) to average (92% of average at Nigel Creek).

    Much above average to above average in the Athabasca River basin (87% to 109% of average).

    Much below average to above average in the Red Deer River basin (75% of average at Limestone Ridge and 107% of average at Skoki Lodge).

  • Upper Peace River basin in British Columbia: as indicated in British Columbia's Snow Survey and Water Supply Bulletin

Mountain snowpack is an important source of water supply to reservoirs in the spring. Accumulation at this time of year typically accounts for nearly three-quarters of the seasonal total.

Plains Spring Snowmelt Runoff Forecasts

Conditions are variable across the province, please refer to the map in the Plains Runoff Forecast section of our Maps and Data Summaries webpage.

Plains snowpack

  • Map of Snow course measurements taken at the end of February and the beginning of March in many areas of central and northern Alberta. Cypress Hills snow measurements were taken in mid-February.
  • Environment Canada map of satellite estimation of plains snow water equivalent (SWE) as of March 4, 2016 is shown here.
  • Alberta Agriculture publishes maps of modelled plains snow accumulations and accumulations as compared to normal.


Contoured maps of precipitation amounts and as a percent of normal for the past month and for current and recent seasons are available here. Maps of precipitation amounts for the most recent day, week and month to date are available here.

Soil Moisture

Alberta Agriculture models soil moisture for non-mountainous, agricultural areas of Alberta. Modelled soil moisture compared to average as of February 28, 2016 is available here.

Long Lead Precipitation Outlooks

Environment Canada (issued on February 28, 2016): Precipitation is forecast to be above normal for the province except normal in northern Alberta and temperatures are forecast to be above normal in Alberta for the March through May 2016 period.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (issued on February 18, 2016): Below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures in the south of Alberta for March through May 2016.

Climate indicators: The NOAA reported on February 11, 2016 that ENSO Alert System Status was at El Niño Advisory. A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a possible transition to La Niña conditions during the fall.

Note that forecasting weather for such a long time period into the future is very difficult, and so the historical accuracy has been variable, dependent on location and time period, and is often low, more so for precipitation than temperature. Environment Canada provides an assessment of their forecast method's historical accuracy on their website.

Reservoir storage

Water storage volumes in the major irrigation and hydroelectric reservoirs of the Milk, Oldman, Bow, Red Deer North Saskatchewan, and Athabasca River basins is updated each weekday and is available in the Provincial Reservoir Storage Summary.


Background information on the Water Supply Outlook is available in Frequently Asked Questions

Media Contact:
Communications Division, Alberta Environment
Phone: (780) 427-8636