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Edmonton considers how to protect ‘critically-important’ Whitemud Creek from boaters

Boats on Whitemud Creek cause concern for residents, environmental group
WATCH ABOVE: With summer approaching, it’s not unusual to see boats on the North Saskatchewan River. But a local environmental group worries some boaters are zipping off the river and into Whitemud Creek. Sarah Kraus explains.

When Edmonton’s snow and ice began to subside this spring, the use of powerboats on city waterways surged, as it always does. But a new concern is emerging, one a city councillor says is prompting recent complaints to the city and has them considering how to deal with the disturbing trend.

City council is expected to discuss the increase in complaints about the number of boats traversing Whitemud Creek. According to Coun. Ben Henderson, the practice is not only concerning from a safety and noise standpoint, but perhaps even more so because of the potential for disrupting the creek’s ecosystem.

“Whitemud Creek is the last creek in the city boundaries that still flows into the river and that’s what makes it so critically important for any kind of fish hatchery you’re going to have within the city boundaries,” he said on Friday.

According to Henderson, the city has received numerous complaints, including video of boats seen to be detouring off the North Saskatchewan River and into the creek near Fort Edmonton Park, although he said the city does not have data on exact numbers. In that area, the creek is only about six-metres wide and its narrowness can pose a hazard for boaters.

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“Not only is it problematic that motorboats are going up Whitemud Creek to begin with, but they’re going up in a reckless way that somebody could be seriously hurt and that are also doing damage,” Henderson said.

It’s the “damage” Henderson referred to that saw the issue be brought up to the City of Edmonton’s Community and Public Services Committee on Friday by the environmental group Sierra Club Canada.

“We have beaver dams, we have birds and there’s seven species of spawning fish that migrate down to the North Saskatchewan River that have been detected by researchers way south at the confluence of Whitemud and Blackmud,” Sierra Club’s Charles Richmond said.

“If there’s a waterway, people will explore it if they’re on a boat,” he added. “It just takes a few minutes.

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“It does tremendous harm to birds and fish.”

Ryan McGregor is a runner who takes advantage of the trails that run along Whitemud Creek. He told Global News he would support the city taking some type of action to deter boaters from the tributary.

“It’s obviously pretty reckless,” McGregor said. “I mean there’s lots of other freshwater spots they can use in other places… but it’s obviously pretty narrow in here and there’s lots of wildlife that use it.”

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Angela Pantony lives in the area and also expressed concern with what’s believed to be an increase in boaters entering the creek.

“It’s also such a fragile ecosystem,” she said. “There’s a lot that can happen when a big machine just rips through the different banks.”

Henderson said the city is looking at putting up signs along the creek to warn boaters not to enter. He also said he hopes an education campaign will enlighten boaters not aware of the risk to both themselves and the environment when they use the waterway.

But because waterways fall under federal jurisdiction, it will be up to Ottawa to determine what if any new legislation can be brought in to address the issue. Henderson said the city will lobby the Liberal government for action on the matter.

“It’s not a simple process to ask for the feds to do it,” he said, however. Henderson also said new rules and regulations won’t make a difference without enforcement.

“There’s still going to be someone that thinks that they’re special and their zooming up and down the creek is more important than the habitat and the other people that are using it and the safety in the area… we’re actually going to need some enforcement tools with it.”

“It’s pretty important if you value fish,” Richmond said. “It depends on how you rank non-human species against the enjoyment of a few people on jetboats.”

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-with files from Sarah Kraus