Rising waters: High river levels in Edmonton keep some groups ashore

The North Saskatchewan River peaked at 6 metres last weekend, 1.5 metres above the historical average. It's keeping some river lovers off the water.

Precipitation may raise North Saskatchewan to last weekend's highs

The Dawson Bridge crosses the North Saskatchewan River, which is currently experiencing water levels higher than the historical average. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton peaked around six metres last weekend, about 1.5 metres above the historical average.

For the Edmonton Rowing Club, that did more than just keep boats off the river.

"It lifted our dock up and slid it around and we have to do some dock repairs as urgently as possible," said the club's head coach Walter Martindale on Thursday.

The club is still considering whether it has to cancel its Canada Day fun race on Saturday as a result.

High waters are not unusual this time of year, often caused by a combination of spring runoff and rain. Last week's heavy rainfall across the city raised the North Saskatchewan River but did not result in any significant flooding. 

"We're hoping to get back on the water early next week," Martindale said. 

The river is currently around five metres high but may reach last weekend's high if expected rainfall happens this weekend, according to Alberta Environment and Parks river forecaster Khaled Akhtar.

The river is flowing around 630 cubic metres per second. A high streamflow advisory is in place and will remain in effect this weekend.

High water levels of the North Saskatchewan River have creeped up some shores in the river valley. (Peter Evans/CBC)

One result of the streamflow is the North Saskatchewan River's silt-bottom is not settled, making the water murky. That makes it unsafe to swim, according to Elise Gaudet-MacKenzie, one of the owners of Element Cycling and Multisport in west Edmonton.

"There are a few areas in the river where there are some big boulders or other obstacles that you have to be aware of," she said.

Gaudet-MacKenzie has been swimming the North Saskatchewan for about five years. She prefers it to many of Alberta's lakes.

"It's cleaner," she said. "I think it's a pretty easy sell."

"A lot of people though have come to the river swims as a novelty but there are half a dozen of us that have kind of adopted it as our go to every day open water swim training."

Gaudet-MacKenzie currently runs a Facebook group named  "Edmonton River Swimming."

The high water level has also caused some problems on land. The city closed the following trails last Friday:

  • Goldbar lower trail
  • Highlands lower trail
  • Emily Murphy to Kinsmen trail
  • Fort Edmonton river loop trail

The notice remains active online as of Thursday afternoon.

Epcor expects and prepares for river level fluctuations during this time of year, according to spokesperson Kelly Struski.

"The current river levels are not a concern for our water or drainage operations," she said.


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