03/11/2014 01:21 EDT | Updated 05/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Water Security Agency says central Saskatchewan facing high spring runoff

REGINA - Water watchers in Saskatchewan say the overall threat of flooding from spring runoff is lower than last year, but the Prince Albert area could still see significant challenges.

The Water Security Agency says runoff could be well above normal from Prince Albert to Waskesiu Lake and slightly northeast of those communities. A band stretching across the entire central part of the province also faces a threat of above-normal water levels.

Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff says that includes North Battleford and Saskatoon.

"This area has poor natural drainage and is a closed basin so a lot of water that was there last year had no where to go and is again there this year," Cheveldayoff said Tuesday when he released the agency's March forecast for spring runoff.

"The water security agency will be doing a targeted snow survey to verify the amount of snow in the regions. The challenges we see are the local streams and water bodies."

The runoff forecast is based on how much water was around when the ground froze last November and snow accumulation, both locally and upstream. Peak flows on the Saskatchewan River system are largely determined by the snow pack and rainfall in the mountains in Alberta.

"The North Saskatchewan (River) system is expected to be above normal, but not to cause flooding," said Cheveldayoff.

"Of course, snow can continue for a while yet in the mountains, so we will continue to watch that very closely."

However, Cheveldayoff also cautions that how fast the snow melts and how much rain might fall in the spring could change the runoff.

"As we all know the potential for runoff can change very, very rapidly," he said.

"Only a week ago we were looking at temperatures in the -20 Celsius range. Last year, I'm sure everyone remembers the snowstorms we had in April, so we need to be aware of this and adapt and monitor as needed."

The rest of Saskatchewan is expected to see near normal runoff, with below normal runoff in the extreme southwest and the far northeast corner of the province.

That's far better than last year when a higher than normal snowpack had the Water Security Agency calling for above normal or well above normal spring runoff in almost all of the southern half of the province. More than a dozen communities were under states of emergency because of flooding last spring, but the overall flood threat was reduced because a long, slow melt meant the water didn't flow all at once.