January 23rd, 2021

High river levels spark concerns

By Jensen, Randy on June 10, 2020.

The City is reminding residents to be careful around the river at this time of year with higher flows, increased debris and swift currents. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


Those fishing or recreating near the Oldman River right now should keep one eye on the sky and avoid riskier activities like wading, floating or boating for the next few weeks, says Doug Kaupp, general manager of Water and Wastewater for the City of Lethbridge.

“During this time of year with the higher river flows there is more debris than usual and the currents are quite swift,” he says. “It would be dangerous to be on the river.”

While currently not flowing higher than the average so far this year, it is nonetheless a lot higher than last year, he says. This is also historically the most dangerous time of year to be on the river, Kaupp adds.

“Last week on Tuesday it peaked at 600 cubic metres per second,” he explains. “(As of Monday morning) it is about 330 cubic metres per second. It’s still pretty high. The minimum flows we get in late summer and through the winter is usually between 20 and 30 cubic metres per second.”

Kaupp expects the river levels to decline to that usual 20-30 cubic metres per second in another week or two, and suggests river users wait until then, when the current is slower and the water is cleaner and clearer to sight submerged debris, before venturing out for traditional summer floating or boating activities.

As for keeping an eye on the sky before setting paddle to river, Kaupp says it is always important, but is especially important right now with the river still in spring flood.

“This time of year is probably when there is the most flood potential for two reasons: right now is when the snowpack in the mountains is melting and discharging into the headwaters. Also, June is our rainiest month,” he explains. “With those two combined that’s what creates the highest risk for flooding on the river. Currently, the Oldman River dam is pretty close to full at 95 or 96 per cent. The St. Mary River reservoir is also pretty close to capacity at about 98 per cent. So if there is a heavy rainfall, especially in the headwaters or in the mountains west of here, there is a lot of potential for the rivers to swell up.”

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