Anyone considering a float down the river to beat the heat this weekend should use caution. Grovedale Fire Department Chief Shawn Clarke doesn’t think water levels on the Wapiti River and others in the area are dangerous at this point, but he says people need to watch for changing conditions.
“Look at the weather forecast,” he advises. “If there’s a lot of rain in the forecast, river levels can rise drastically. The river is a powerful force, so it’s not a good idea, but at the same time there are people who do it.”
Clarke says Grovedale firefighters get called to an average of seven river rescues a year, ranging from distress calls and emergencies to overdue floaters. They do annual training, and often team up with Grande Prairie Technical Search & Rescue and STARS Air Ambulance.
For those who choose to venture onto the water, Clarke urges them to wear a lifejacket as required by law for anyone on a watercraft. They should also carry water with them, and let someone know where they’re going and when they’re expected back.
“The other thing to remember along the river if you’re floating, especially as boaters, you can’t see the channel of the river as it’s really muddy right now,” Clarke says. “The one thing that they can’t really do at any given time is really stop; you’ve got to keep your momentum going because they’re in very little water.”
The Peace country was the subject of flooding in late April and early May from spring runoff. While most of that seems to have subsided, Clarke warns more could be on the way.
“The mountains still have to thaw yet, so once that starts we’re going to have another flood come. Any time in June that usually happens, and usually debris is associated with that.”