Prince Albert city officials are going to keep a close eye on the North Saskatchewan River over the next week.
According to a recent advisory issued by the Water Security Agency, there is a good chance the river will see some ice-jamming on the river between Prince Albert and the Petrofka Bridge, which is located southwest of the city.
“Those ice formations are really unpredictable and they can cause a rapid rise in water levels,” WSA spokesman Patrick Boyle says. “This creates the potential for a pretty serious situation and significant flooding.”
Boyle says ice jamming is quite common as spring starts, but this year they’re expecting worse that usual. Boyle says the frigid winter created thicker sheets of ice, which take up more space and take longer to disappear.
“Ice jams are one of those things that are really unpredictable,” he says. “They happen suddenly. Really a slow melt or something that gradually breaks up the ice and moves it down the river is ideal.”
Ice jams can cause water levels to rise as the flow backs up, which means Prince Albert residents could be seeing water coming up through manholes and storm drains.
Acting Prince Albert Fire Chief Jason Everitt says they can’t predict how much flooding, if any, will occur, but they’re going to be ready just in case.
“It’s a holding pattern from our perspective,” he says. “We have plans in place. We have crews and abilities to mitigate some of the hazards, but we very much depend upon our provincial counterparts to let us know what’s coming downstream ahead of us.”
Everitt says most areas, including downtown, should be elevated enough to avoid rising water levels. The biggest concern is the East Flat area.
“I know last year there was a very significant concern about the level of water coming down here and the flow and the volume,” he says. “For a brief window of a few days there were preparations that the city had done to ensure that if we started to see water coming up through some of the manholes in the East Flat that they would be able to cover those.”
Flooding isn’t the only problem that results from ice jamming. The spring breakup frequently attracts curious spectators, and Everitt says they always have some problems with people wandering onto the ice.
“If someone does break through or get caught under that ice or get swept under there’s nothing we can do,” he says. “We’re hoping people have the sense just to stay back and watch it from a safe distance.”
Like Boyle, Everitt says the ice flows and jams can be unpredictable, so they’re relying on a second pair of eyes to help them fight possible flooding.
“If we know that there’s a large volume of water coming towards us from a breakup upstream then we can look at what preparations need to be made in Prince Albert.”