July 11, 2013 7:24 pm
Updated: July 11, 2013 8:05 pm

Wet weather and erosion close some Edmonton trails

EDMONTON – A long stretch of wet weather combined with high and fast flowing rivers and creeks has forced the city to close a number of Edmonton’s trails.

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“Right now, we’re responding to the high water levels in the river,” explains Don Lewycky, Director of Engineering Services with the City. “As they slowly drop, it tends to cause failure mechanism, it’s called ‘rapid draw down failure.’ The water can’t get out of the banks fast enough so it becomes super heavy and the water isn’t supporting it because the river level has dropped. And so we get these little slumps along the edge of the river.”

There are erosion concerns along the River Valley and in the city’s creeks which have led to closures of the Riverside trail behind the golf course at Riverside, a path in Wolf Willow by the Fort Edmonton foot bridge, and a few spots along Whitemud Creek near the Whitemud Nature Reserve.

In some cases, the erosion is so severe, the trail appears to just drop off into nothing.

“Every time it rains, there tends to be a close correlation with landslides or erosion occurring,” Lewycky adds.

“The only thing that’s really being affected at this point is mainly the hiking trails. We’ve got a policy now that we try to see – rather than building structures and all the expense and environmental impacts related to that – is seeing if we can slightly realign the trails to avoid the problem.”

The wet weather – and its effect on the river valley trail system – isn’t a new challenge.

“It’s happened three years in a row with high water levels,” explains Barry Lozinsky, a Supervisor of River Valley and Horticulture. “Whether it be rain or mountain water, it doesn’t matter.  Bottom line, it effects the creeks and river.”

He says the water and the land around it is always changing, but he’s seen a more drastic change in recent years.

“What I call normal now was not normal five years ago. We used to get them less frequently.”

“Last year, there was that big thunderstorm that came through south Edmonton that caused a lot of problems,” adds Lewycky, “and now with these high water levels, we’re starting to get a few in the River Valley.”

The city will continue to monitor the situation and assess concerns on a case-by-case basis.

Some trails that have been closed are fenced off and signs have been put up.

“They’re being put up basically for their protection,” says Lewycky. “If they want to ignore it, there’s nobody going to be monitoring on a full time basis.”

“It could be hazardous to your health,” he explains.  “We’re doing our best in terms of fencing it off to trying to notify people that there’s a problem.”

“We try to find the easiest solution to get people around the trails that I know they love,” adds Lozinsky.

As the city monitors the trail situation, it will update conditions on its website.

If you notice concerns, contact the city at trails@edmonton.ca or call 311.

“If people notice something that’s slumping down, call 311, notify them there, and we’ll go out and investigate.  We’ll take a look at it.”

City crews will respond to reports on a priority basis.

Lewycky says, at this point, trails are seeing the biggest impact, and there aren’t any structures or bridges that are hazardous.

“Everybody is monitoring the various bridges and bridge piers and things like that along the freeways. As we call them in, we go out, take a look, see if there’s a major problem, whether it can wait for a few years, or if we have to respond immediately.”

“We’re actually going to be looking at the High Level Bridge because they’ve got a little bit of erosion on the pier on the south side, so we’ll take a look at that on Monday.”

Still, he says it is not an immediate hazard.

“No emergencies as far as we know.”

Lewycky maintains the issue is one Edmonton has been – and will continue to deal with for a long time.

“It’s been happening for 10,000 years, ever since the River Valley started forming, and it will continue. Gravity is still there. Most of the problems are related to water, so either increased precipitation does it, heavy rainfall will do it.”

The high water level and speed at which the river is flowing has forced the Sourdough Raft Race Association to postpone its event this weekend.

“Looking at the river – we’ve actually been in touch with the City of Edmonton, we have an events liaison and we met him out here on Monday, and he instructed us that it’s risky,” says Association President Ken Evasiw. “Levels are higher, the flow rate is high, and he indicated that there was in increased level of risk which kind of alarmed us, and then we saw the condition of the bank was changed.”

“There’s a lot of debris built up along the river bank and so the access to the check points was a bit treacherous and we didn’t want to expose people to that.”

The Sourdough Raft Race Association is working with the city to reschedule the race for a weekend in August.

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