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Ice jam along Bulkley River floods residents' backyards

An ice jam along the Bulkley River near Smithers, B.C. is causing river levels to rise significantly and is spilling over and flooding nearby backyards.

Ice jam along the Bulkley River near Smithers, B.C. causing river levels to rise

Water from the Bulkley River flooded a resident's backyard to a point that the children's playground has become unusable. (Elsbeth Fielding)

An ice jam along the Bulkley River near Smithers, B.C. is causing river levels to rise significantly and is spilling over and flooding nearby backyards.

"Flooding of property is the number one concern for a lot of people, who like me live nearby the river," said Councillor Phil Brienesse with the Town of Smithers. 

The ice jam — which occurs when water builds up behind a blockage of ice — began forming over the weekend and is roughly along a 300 metre stretch of the river.

"The river was rising quite quickly and it's about a foot and half from going over the bank" said Brienesse. 

The ice jams have become a real concern for residents living downstream because there is a high risk of flooding once the ice jam opens up. (Kathy Spiro)

Usually the river doesn't thaw until the Spring, but in recent years it has been happening earlier in the winter and more frequently. 

"Winter comes and the river freezes up. Then it gets warm, the river starts to break up, ice starts flowing down the river then it gets cold again, so those chunks glom up together," said Berniesse. 

An ice jam along the Bulkley River has cut access to peoples' homes and caused some to flee and stay with friends or relatives. (Elsbeth Fielding)

The rapid thawing and freezing means higher risks of flooding and if water levels continue to rise there may be an evacuation order issued for those living nearby.

Currently none has been issued.

"We have in place emergency social services. If people are unable to arrange their own lodging, we can do lodging for them," said Bill Miller with the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako.

If the ice jam loosens, that would relieve the threat of flooding in Smithers, but it could still cause rising water levels downstream.

Miller says the ice jam is showing no signs of slowing down and is being monitored by the provincial government's BC Water Stewardship.

Water has frozen over picnic tables at Ebenezer Flats, opposite of the Bulkley River. (Kathy Spiro)

With files from Kamil Karamali

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