River breakup pending

Director of protective services Ross Potter says the monitoring process for breakup is exhaustive and time-consuming for a week of action, but overall worth it to keep the community informed and prepared. Photo by Sarah Ladik NNSL

Director of protective services Ross Potter says the monitoring process for breakup is exhaustive and time-consuming for a week of action, but overall worth it to keep the community informed and prepared.
Photo by Sarah Ladik
NNSL

Residents are still being advised to be prepared in the event of flooding as a result of impending breakup, but officials are cautiously predicting there will not be any serious issues this year.

“Flow rates have receded at the falls and are presently down to about 700 cubic meters per second,” director of protective services for the town of Hay River Ross Potter said in a statement on Monday. “Although this is definitely down from the 900 plus we saw for the last couple of days there is still enough flow coming to cause some flooding.”

There was some action on Sunday, April 4, with many areas of the Hay River breaking up and flowing quite high. Residents took to social media with their updates and concerns, with others living away from the banks of the river closely following the progress. However, Potter noted that while there was significant progress made April 4, things stalled the day after.

“Everything is stalled right now,” he said, adding that they were calling for warmer weather in High Level and Hay River for the rest of the week, which would hopefully speed things along.

“The present ice jam runs from Hay River all the way to Patterson Road which means we have a lengthy chunk of ice that if it lets go even somewhat at the same time it could have some interesting results in Hay River,” said Potter. “Therefore Breakup Watch continues until such time as both channels are running freely out to the lake and there are no concerns with ice jams.”

While breakup can be relatively unpredictable, the municipality monitors several indicators for the timing and severity of the event. Mayor Andrew Cassidy said last week those observations were pointing towards a fairly average year.

“There is no indication there will be massive flooding,” he said. “All signs point to it being fairly moderate.”

Typically, breakup happens in the last week of April and the first week of May. Last year was one of the latest the town has on record, with breakup declared May 14. Ideally, the weather makes for warm days and cold nights to prevent the ice from melting all at once and too quickly, causing blockages.

In the weeks before breakup, Potter and a team place monitoring equipment along the path of the river, information from which is recorded and posted on the municipality’s website for public consumption. Potter also makes trips to Alberta to monitor the progress of the melt in the rest of the watershed, which informs how Hay River will experience breakup. He said the snow-melt in the Chinchaga River, about 60 kilometres north of High Level, often dictates events lower down the system.

“Typically I do a weekly trip out there until it breaks, generally starting in mid-April,” he told The Hub last week. “This year the water level was next to nothing. We monitor the whole watershed, but that’s really our trigger point.”

The Chinchaga broke April 28, and with Hay River breakup generally following within a week or two.

Although officials do not predict severe flooding threats, residents are encouraged to be prepared and to keep informed about the progress of breakup this year on the town website, as well as updates put out by the emergency preparedness team on social media.

-Sarah Ladik