Breakup approaches

Diana Yeager/NNSL photo Ross Potter, the director of protective services with the Town of Hay River, stands by the frozen Hay River on April 15.

Diana Yeager/NNSL photo
Ross Potter, the director of protective services with the Town of Hay River, stands by the frozen Hay River on April 15.

Just like at every year at this time, eyes are being turned towards the Hay River in advance of breakup, despite the river’s solid appearance.

Ross Potter, the director of protective services with the Town of Hay River, drove along the Hay River on April 15 and checked up on its main tributary, the Chinchaga River in Alberta.

“Based on what I saw, I’m not expecting much at this point but we’ll continue to eyeball it so there will be no surprises,” said Potter. “We’re heading into warm weather so I expect we will see changes quickly.”

Potter looks for snow levels and any signs of breaking up on the tributary rivers as well as upstream on the Hay River.

The Chinchaga River’s breakup is approximately a week behind where it was at this point last year and the snow levels in Hay River are eight per cent higher than normal – two conditions that make for a later breakup.

“The river levels are climbing slowly,” Potter said. “Once the Chinchaga breaks up, we can usually expect to see the Hay River follow within four to 14 days.”

Despite careful planning and monitoring, Potter said breakup is still always a risky time.

“Mother Nature is in charge, there’s no question about that,” he said. “I won’t claim to be an expert on the river. I don’t think anyone can be. It’s always a surprise.”

As each year presents a different breakup, Potter said the patterns are not predictable.

“It has definitely changed since I got to town,” he said. “Forty years ago when I first got here, it would be -40 in January and February. We are not seeing that anymore.”

Breakup is a challenge each year but Potter doesn’t think there is much to be done for a permanent fix.

“There has been talk of dredging on the East Channel, but I’m not sure where that’s headed,” he said. “You can’t stop (flooding at breakup) from happening. You just have to be prepared and be able to get everyone out of the flood area.”

Potter and his Emergency Measures Organization team will begin official breakup watch this week, monitoring the Water Services Canada website for updates on other rivers, as well as checking in on the monitors placed along the Hay River at the falls south of Enterprise, Paradise Gardens, West Channel and the Pine Point Bridge. They will also be sending out notices to Vale Island residents and setting a date for a meeting with those at risk during a possible flood.

Potter said at this unpredictable time of the year, people should also consider staying off the river ice.

– Diana Yeager