Edmontonians should be cautious around the North Saskatchewan River for the next few days, as water levels are expected to rise over the next 24 hours, the city warned on Thursday.
A high streamflow advisory is in place for the mainstem of the North Saskatchewan River from the Bighorn Dam to the Saskatchewan border.
Water levels are expected to continue to rise over the next 24 hours and peak on Friday morning.
“Flows will be high through the weekend,” said Colleen Walford, a river forecast engineer with the Alberta government, adding the high streamflow advisory will remain in place until at least Monday.
“The biggest message for people would be that they really need to be cautious around the river. It is deceptively fast. There’s a lot of debris on the surface and because there’s so much sediment in the water, there’s a lot of debris under the water that you can’t see.
“Be cautious around the river until we take that advisory off.”
The rise in the river water level is being caused by the heavy rain that fell in the Foothills, eastern slopes and Rocky Mountain House areas, Walford explained.
The warning comes just about two weeks after officials asked people to stay off the river due to very low water levels.
“It’s been a crazy season for anybody who’s hoping to use the river,” said Bruce McWhinnie, chief of special operations with Edmonton Fire Rescue Services.
“What a difference 10 days make.”
McWhinnie said fire crews have not been responding to any more water rescues than what is typical for this time of year, but stressed the need for people to stay away from the fast-moving water.
“Water levels and flow rates are up significantly,” he said. “These are extreme conditions.”
Typically at this time of year, McWhinnie said the water level sits around three metres deep. Right now, he said it’s closer to seven metres in depth.
Flow rates are typically around 300 to 350 cubic metres per second but they’re now close to 1,400 cubic metres per second, McWhinnie explained.
“All of that has an effect on your ability to exit the water, whether it’s a rescue or self-rescue. The other real piece to this is that with the elevated depth and volume, the river is now bank to bank,” he said. “There’s really no place to exit the river. You have to kind of go up a vertical bank, so even if you get yourself in, there just may not be an opportunity to get yourself out.”
With the water running as fast as it is, officials are also asking people to be extra careful with their pets.
“When you’re close to running water like that, we really encourage people to keep their dogs on a leash at all times so they can be supervised,” Edmonton Humane Society CEO Liza Sunley said.
“If your pet goes into the river and the banks are swollen, there’s really not exit points for them,” McWhinnie said.
The high water levels may cause some flooding in areas running along the river, the City of Edmonton said in a news release Thursday morning.
As of Thursday morning, the following low-lying trails were closed:
- Emily Murphy Park to Kinsmen Park lower trail
- Highlands lower trail
- River loop trail alongside Fort Edmonton Park
- Gold Bar Park lower trail
The city said other low-lying trails may close on short notice depending on the water levels. People can check the status of river valley trails on Edmonton’s trail closures map.
The city is asking people to:
- stay out of the water
- stay away from low-lying areas along the North Saskatchewan River until the water recedes
- refrain from allowing pets near the river during this time
- keep watercraft off the river due to fast-moving water, strong currents and debris in the water
Read more: Rainfall warnings ended for all of Alberta
The warning comes after days of heavy rain over much of Alberta.
While areas to the south experienced more rain than in the capital region, the Edmonton International Airport recorded 65.6 millimetres of rain between noon Monday and noon Wednesday, according to Environment and Climate Change Weather Alberta.
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