BANFF – Rising river levels receded rapidly with cooler temperatures slowing down the snowmelt this week.
While the flow of the Bow River through Lake Louise, Banff and Canmore is still slightly above its normal flow rate for early June, there are no longer any advisories in place warning of possible flooding.
The warm weather melting snow up high led to rising river levels last week, with a flood watch declared on Friday (June 4) for the Bow River upstream of the Town of Banff and for the Pipestone River in Lake Louise.
“We were actually very concerned because it did rise very quickly and it was even rising overnight,” said Silvio Adamo, the director of emergency management for the Town of Banff.
“But Mother Nature helped us out there with some cooler temperatures over the weekend and not a lot of precipitation in our area compared to some other places in the province.”
The Bow River in Banff peaked at 3.28 metres, flowing at about 300 cubic metres per second on Saturday (June 5), but had receded to 2.77 metres with a flow rate of 113 cubic metres per second by Tuesday (June 8).
By comparison, the peak flow of the Bow River during the 2013 flood was 440 cubic metres per second.
With the rising waters last week, Parks Canada shut down the Fenlands trail and surrounding areas near Vermilion Lakes as well as the picnic area behind the Lake Louise visitor centre by the Pipestone River due to flooding.
The Banff Canoe Club temporarily closed off the main channel of the Bow River to its customers on Thursday and Friday, directing them to Echo Creek and Forty Mile Creek to Vermilion Lakes.
“On Friday, I saw the river starting to crest and a bit of debris in the water, like logs moving around,” said Daryn McCutcheon of the Banff Canoe Club, a division of Banff Adventures.
“Then when I saw the possibility of heavy rains and it was still quite warm, I decided we’ll just close for the weekend and re-evaluate … we made a decision to err on the side of caution.”
The Town of Banff’s emergency response plan for floods outlines certain triggers for when action is needed, including safety messaging for the community when river flows reach 200 cubic metres per second.
Residents and visitors were asked to avoid riverbanks because they can be slippery and dangerous beside fast-moving water with significant debris, as well as to avoid all river recreation.
Adamo said the Town of Banff was constantly monitoring for flooding at the recreation grounds, Birch Street trails, Bow Avenue, and the parking lot at Bow Falls.
“As it continued to rise and speed up flow, we closed certain sections of our our trails around the river,” he said.
“We were about to pull the trigger on the Bow Falls viewing platform, if it had gone just over 300 cubic metres per second. That’s when it starts to spill over onto the pathway.”
The Bow River through Banff historically doesn’t peak until about the third week of June.
According to Alberta Environment, the Bow River basin upstream of Banff and Canmore may receive 10 to 25 mm of precipitation on Thursday (June 10).
Adamo said the Town is hoping the river peaked early, but it’s hard to say because flows depend on many variables.
“The forecast is for much warmer weather over the weekend and into next week so we’ll be obviously keeping a close eye on how it effects the flow,” Adamo said, noting the Town is in regular contact with Alberta Environment.
Adamo reminds residents and visitors to take extra care along the riverbanks following the high flow.
“If people are standing close to the bank they may feel it’s stable, but it may not be because there could have been some undermining that took places last week,” he said.
In Canmore, Cougar Creek and Three Sisters Creek are flowing normally for this time of year. The groundwater is at its historical average, but is creating some minor issues in town.