High water increases dangers on North Saskatchewan River

An outdoor guide who takes people down the North Saskatchewan River is warning people to stay off the river because of high water levels.

Stay off the river until water level subsides, says outdoor guide

A tree in the swollen North Saskatchewan River. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

An outdoor guide who takes people down the North Saskatchewan River is warning people to stay off the river because of high water levels.

"I've pulled my crews off the river that are operating out there," Bill Abercrombie, founder of Fort Saskatchewan-based Bushman Inc., said Monday.

"I wouldn't be out there."

Alberta Environment has issued a high streamflow advisory for the river and its tributaries between Lodgepole and Edmonton.

The river has risen one metre from the high water levels of last week.

Other high streamflow advisories are in effect for the Peace River, the Smoky River Basin, the Athabasca River Basin and the Bow River Basin.

Campground evacuated because of rising water

On June 10, Grande Prairie RCMP evacuated a campground in the McLeod Flats area due to the rising river.

The rising water was wheel-high on several camping trailers.

Two people were rescued by STARS air ambulance after they were stranded on a small island formed by the rising river.

One man is still missing after his canoe capsized on the Smoky River on Saturday night.

Abercrombie said high streamflow is making Alberta rivers risky for anyone on them.

"There's the volume of water and the speed and the current but there's also … a lot of debris in the river," he said.

"That also makes it very unsafe, because you might think you have the skills to manage the current but you might find yourself running into logs and other debris." 

Riverdale residents ready

Homes in Edmonton's river valley are susceptible to flooding. Riverdale residents have been there many times before, most recently in 2013.

Kassy Benoit lives near the river where her kids sometimes go to play. 
Kassy Benoit says she keeps an extra close eye on her kids when the river levels start to rise. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

"My only worry would be them going down normally where it's safe for them to go down is not anymore, so I just keep more of an eye on them."

Last year, the water reached the curb of the street.

"We know when the river is high, we know where to stay and know where to go," she said. "And we kind of keep ourselves updated on our Facebook group."

James Major has lived in the Riverdale neighbourhood for 25 years, and said it's been a few years since the river flooded in the area.

He's more concerned about the speed of the river.

"It's dangerous, you have to stay back from it and keep your animals on a leash for sure," he said. "You don't want your animals anywhere near the river, it's really moving."

The clear may be near

The danger may soon be over, according to provincial river forecasters. 

River levels are high but normal for this time of year, Bernard Trevor, manager of river forecast team with Ministry of Environment and Parks, said Monday afternoon.

"Conditions are actually falling right now. Peak levels have occurred."

He's not concerned about rain in the forecast this week. He said people can check the department website for latest conditions and forecasters' comments. 

The department is still expecting rivers in the eastern part of the province to crest, he said.

Eroding riverbanks also risky

Abercrombie said people on riverbanks can be in danger when rivers are high because the ground can become unstable.

"Water running at this level is also eroding and undercutting the shore," he said. "Stay back from the water's edge because certainly it's not safe for pets out there, certainly for children and adults both, they should stay away from the shores and the river right now until things settle down." 
Water levels on the North Saskatchewan River have come over much of the shoreline at the Buena Vista dog park. (Nola Keeler/CBC)

The City of Edmonton has closed all of its boat launches because of flooding except at Fort Edmonton Park.

Alberta Environment said there could be more rain in the forecast but it doesn't expect that will cause any more significant water level rises.

About the Author

Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.