Banff’s Kidney Spring – once home to the endangered Banff Springs Snail – is running with water again.
A local population of the endangered snail was wiped out earlier this year when the thermal springs ran dry. Kidney Spring was one of only seven locations in which the tiny mollusk is found.
Parks Canada officials say a trickle resumed mid-May, but the spring was back flowing steadily when staff inspected the site, Wednesday (May 25).
“It’s actually flowing quite well,” said Charlie Pacas, an aquatics specialist for Banff National Park.
“We have temperature probes in the spring and once we look at those we should be able to determine exactly when the flows resumed.”
Parks Canada decided against intervening and rescuing the snails when the hot spring ran dry earlier in the spring; instead opting to “let nature take its course”.
One of the biggest problems at the time was there was no emergency response plan and no facility in which to put the fragile snails when the spring stopped flowing as predicted.
At this point, any final decision on whether or not to reintroduce the tiny snails back into Kidney Spring remains undecided.
The recovery team, which is made up solely of Parks Canada employees – with the exception of snail expert Dwayne Lepitzki – will discuss the issue more in the coming months.
Parks officials have indicated they don’t want to reintroduce the snails only to have the spring run dry again next spring.
That would leave the federal agency with a decision on whether to let them die again or mount a rescue by keeping them in an aquarium until the water flows resumed.
“That’s not the best position to be in,” said Pacas. “We want to do the right thing.”
The first step for Parks Canada is to continue monitoring the water flows, in conjunction with Professor Masaki Hayashi, Canada Research Chair in Physical Hydrology in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary.
“We want to get a better sense of how strong the flows are compared to previous years,” said Pacas.
“We need to see where these flows are going and then we would consider what those options would be closer to fall.”
If a decision is made to reintroduce the snails to one of their historic homes, an emergency response plan would need to be in place.
But Parks has initial concerns about maintaining the snails outside of the springs.
“Our concern is if they’re in aquaria, over time the snails will change,” said Pacas. “That’s not our favourable option and we prefer them in a natural environment.”
The lemon-seed sized snails on Sulphur Mountain, known as Physella johnsoni, are found nowhere else in the world and survive in seven hot springs.
The population in the Kidney Spring was reintroduced in November 2003 and has thrived since then. The previous year was the only other known time that spring ran empty.
According to the recovery plan, the biggest threat to the survival and persistence of this endangered species is the stoppage of the springs.
What used to be a rare occurrence of springs drying up along the Sulphur Mountain thrust fault is becoming more and more commonplace.
While there are many theories, scientists believe recent flow anomalies in the springs are ultimately caused by climate change.
The Upper Hot Springs has run dry 12 times in the last 15 years, typically in late winter and early spring. The popular tourist attraction is supplemented with tap water when this happens.
The only other documented times the Upper Hot Springs experienced low flows or completely stopped flowing were in 1970 and 1923.
The flows to the popular tourist attraction resumed May 21.