Finding your flow with the new and improved Alberta Rivers App

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The Alberta Rivers mobile app provides detailed information on river flows, river and lake levels, precipitation, snowpack and ice conditions across the province.

Information on current and future conditions helps Albertans make decisions related to water supply, flood mitigation, and emergency response planning.

So what’s new?

The app was recently upgraded to provide information on low flow conditions and water shortage advisories. This is so that water users can make informed decisions around water withdrawal if there are potential shortages.

Recently, a new emergency managers’ web portal on rivers.alberta.ca was also released to help municipal partners deliver a well-timed, co-ordinated response during a flood to help ensure public safety.

How to use it

While there are some new additions, the app still offers all the other great features it had originally. The app was originally released in 2014 with the intent to present data in a faster, more user-friendly way.

The mobile app features a map of Alberta with station pins that display the different monitoring locations and associated data. When under advisory, river station pins and the associated river basin are colour-coded.  For open water advisories:

  • Green: Advisory Ended
  • Yellow: High Streamflow Advisory – Stream levels are rising or expected to rise rapidly and no major flooding is expected. Minor flooding in low-lying areas is possible. Anyone situated close to the streams affected is advised to be cautious of the rising levels.
  • Orange: Flood Watch – Stream levels are rising and will approach or may exceed bankfull. Flooding of areas adjacent to these streams may occur. Anyone situated close to the river is advised to take appropriate precautionary measures.
  • Red: Flood Warning – Rising stream levels will result in flooding of areas adjacent to the streams affected. Anyone situated close to the river should take appropriate measures to avoid flood damage.

The app is available for apple and android. Data is updated hourly.

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If a mobile app is just not for you, the same information is available by visiting rivers.alberta.ca.

Who’s using it?

The great thing about the river app is that Albertans can use it for a variety of reasons. Some groups who access the information frequently include:

  • Water license holders – Albertans that use water from rivers and lakes are issued licences to specify the amount of water allowed to be withdrawn. This applies to both businesses and individuals.
  • Hydroelectric producers – Alberta’s river basins provide a source of renewable energy for electricity generation. Operators work closely with river forecasters and need to be aware of changing conditions.
  • River community residents – Albertans located in communities or areas at risk of flooding can use the mobile app to stay on top of any future advisories.
  • Emergency managers – these individuals have a very important role to prepare their communities in case of various emergencies and monitor for any potential emergencies, which makes access to current river and flooding conditions invaluable.
  • River use groups – River conditions are important to organizations such as paddling clubs or rafting companies.
  • Recreational users – those enjoying the great outdoors, including campers, canoers and kayakers can use the mobile app to keep an eye on changing conditions.

There have been approximately 11,000 downloads of the app since it’s launch two years ago, and those numbers continue to grow.

Water Works

A lot of work happens behind the scenes to get the information that’s so nicely packaged up in the Alberta Rivers app. Here are a couple of the many interesting technologies behind the app:

Engaging with Gauging

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Gauge station on Bearberry Creek near Sundre

Water level or ‘gauge height’ is measured by gauges housed in stations (often metal shacks) on the banks of rivers. A pressure hose is connected from the station to the bottom of the river. The station uses this hose and equipment within the shack including loggers, transmitters such as satellite, telephone or radio and batteries to measure the pressure at the bottom of the river.

The measured pressure is used to calculate the water level, based on how much water weighs.

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Inside of a gauge station

Stream-lining Science

Measuring streamflow is a bit trickier and more labour intensive. Acoustic Doppler current profilers and current meters are tools used to measure streamflow, but it is challenging to measure continuously.

In order to calculate streamflow in a continuous manner, a rating curve must be developed.

Developing a rating curve involves manually measuring both water level and streamflow at the same time for a variety of different water levels and streamflows, and plotting the data on a graph. This allows us to establish a relationship between water level, which is continuously measured, and the associated streamflow, which is not. Based on this relationship, streamflow can be calculated based on water level. Streamflow will be unique to each station.

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Acoustic Doppler on Parlby Creek

Factors such as the roughness of the channel (friction slows water down), channel geometry, and river slope are all factors that affect how water level and streamflow are related, and this relationship is represented by the rating curve.

The Snow Way to Know

Snowfall is measured by snow pillows – but you wouldn’t want to sleep on them. Snow pillows are like giant hot water bottles, but filled with an anti-freeze solution. When snow falls and weighs on the pillow, it will push it down and trigger connected sensors located in a shack nearby. As you get more weight on the pillow the column of anti-freeze will rise and we know how much pressure is being applied. From there, we can figure out how much water is in the snow. Measuring this is important because it also has the ability to impact flood conditions.

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Snow pillow standpipe and encoder inside meteorological station at Gordon Lake

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Pluvio precipitation gauge, temperature/RH sensor, and snow pillow (in background) at Gordon Lake

There are an estimated 700 stations monitored on a daily basis. This includes river flows, river and lake levels, precipitation, snowpack, and soil moisture data.

Another notable feature on the mobile app allows individuals to upload photos in specific river or stream locations, that way forecasters can see what current conditions look like at a particular point in time.

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Check out all these great features for yourself – visit rivers.alberta.ca or download the app on your apple or android!

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