Ninety per cent of our water comes from frozen water vapour as snow. And water is amazing! It continually morphs into liquid, solid ice, vapour, rain and frozen, crystalline snow. This makes snow part of the great never-ending water cycle. Think of the rivers, streams, lakes, groundwater, rain, vapour and snow as an ongoing water cycle circulatory system. All our water eternally circulates in a closed-loop system between our atmosphere, earth’s soil and everything alive within. Water is vital to all life on Earth, and in the Okanagan snow is a critical link in that system. We eventually drink our snow as water.
We live in a majorly snow-dominated watershed — high elevation lakes and forests release snowmelt into our valley. Creeks runoff mostly April to July and peak in the valley bottom lakes May to June. Hydrologists measure the depth and weight of snow throughout winter at high elevation snow survey points in undisturbed snow patches to determine the year’s water availability.
But our upper watersheds, mostly on crown land, get multiple uses; forestry, cattle grazing, recreation and mining. These are managed to minimize impacts on snow which eventually affects water quality. It’s critically important to keep animal and human wastes and sediment out of water. Clean water needs less expensive water treatment. So, during winter, stay on established trails and roads for human safety, to prevent erosion and to protect our water supply. Use the toilet before going out to enjoy the snow, pack out your garbage and minimize pollution. Maintain the quality and quantity of snow.
Snow can be powdery light if dry, or tediously heavy when wet. Snowflakes drift down from the sky at two to six km/hr, or faster if windy. They are clear crystals, like sugar and salt, that appears white as it piles up.
Where the climate is cold enough for year-to-year accumulation, a glacier may form. Otherwise, snow typically melts in the spring running off into watershed streams and recharging groundwater. Unlike many other parts of Canada, just a few centimetres of snow settles in Vernon. It can come and go through winter.
Then just a half-hour drive uphill, two to three meters of snow settles throughout the winter. Vernon’s single largest water source, BX Creek, starts on Silver Star Mountain. Some runoff settles in Swan Lake then flows through BX Creek into Vernon Creek then into Okanagan Lake then through the Columbia River out to the Pacific Ocean between Washington and Oregon. Interestingly, snow on the east side of Silver Star flows down Vance or Putnam Creeks, through the Shuswap to the Thompson and Fraser Rivers and out to the Pacific through Vancouver.
More of our water comes from snow than from rain in the Okanagan.
More water evaporates from our Okanagan lakes during our hot, dry summers than is replaced by rain or snow; so our lakes are receding.
Amazing that so little snow settles in Vernon when one of the snowiest places on Earth is only a couple hours away in the mountains around Revelstoke. Rogers Pass gets the highest annual snowfall of all highways in the world; about 8.7 m/year. The record is twice that. And the steeper the terrain, the greater the likelihood of avalanches. That’s the reason for the series of highway snowsheds. Higher up on Mt. Copeland, about 20 km northwest of Revelstoke, holds the Canadian record of 24.5 m. Now that’s a lot of snow! Eventually, its runoff generates hydroelectric power giving us some of the lowest electricity rates.
So please take care of our snow — it’s our water!
This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.