Red Deer River looks inviting on hot summer days, but people should take precautions to stay safe while on the water. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Rafters should be prepared for fast, murky river

Red Deer River water level higher than usual

People floating down the Red Deer River should exercise caution, says an avid kayaker.

Todd Nivens, executive director of the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society, said the water level is high at 2.95 metres, and fast flowing at 147 cubic metres per second, compared to the seasonal norm of 80 to 85.

“If you’re used to floating on the river at this time of year, it’s not the same as it was last summer, or the summer before.

“It’s higher, it’s faster, it is significantly harder to see debris and obstructions,” said Nivens, who has been out on the river several times this summer.

He said the potential for mishap is pretty high right now without a viable watercraft, such as a canoe or kayak, proper raft or boat. People need the ability to change course with paddles, oars or a motor.

“There is much more water pushing on you when you’re in the river. That means when you come off of a floaty, and you don’t have a lifejacket, maintaining your control in the river is going to be very, very difficult.

“Even if you can touch the bottom, you won’t be able to stand up in it if the water is more than hip height.

“That creates a really dangerous situation. Unless you’re experienced at swimming in moving water, you won’t be able to control where you are in the river.”

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He said the water is murky with a lot of erosion material clouding the river right now.

“The problem with that is you have no idea what’s underneath the surface of the river. If you’re in a canoe, or kayak or a proper raft, that’s not such a big deal, because those boats can take running over a stick, or a rock, or sweepers.

“A recreational floaty, meant to float on a lake or swimming pool, it’s going to get torn up.”

Sweepers are objects such as sticks or logs that are lodged into the river bottom.

“If you were to fall off of a raft or floaty, especially without a lifejacket, and get entangled in something below the surface you can’t see, your chances of getting out of that is almost nil.”

He said with a flow of 133 cubic metres per second, it only took him 40 minutes to paddle from Great Chief Park to MacKenzie Trails on Saturday night. Normally, the trip takes about an hour and 15 minutes.

“If it trends in the same direction, if we don’t get anymore rain, if they keep the outflow of the dam the same, probably by Saturday afternoon, I would expect it to be down in the 130 to 120 range, which is still significantly higher than it normally would be at this time of year.”

But Nivens said if people are properly equipped, a trip down the Red Deer River offers a great perspective on the city and the nature.

“If you can do it safely, there is no better way to get a sense of where we are and how we live and how we interact with the plants and animals around us. It’s just the best way to see this part of central Alberta.”



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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