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Flood risk remains high; situation in Hay River ‘very volatile’

West Channel and Vale Island residents were heading into Saturday evening under an evacuation order from earlier in the morning in response to large chunks of ice drifting through town.
Ice continued flowing through Hay River on May 7 as spring breakup conditions have led to some flooding in the community. The municipality is asking residents of Vale Island and the West Channel to evacuate after an order was put in place at 2 a.m. on May 7. Photo courtesy of April Martel

West Channel and Vale Island residents were heading into Saturday evening under an evacuation order from earlier in the morning in response to large chunks of ice drifting through town.

The municipality issued the evacuation order at 2 a.m. on May 7 for Vale Island and the West Channel area as spring breakup’s rising waters and increasing precipitation levels worsened flooding conditions.

“The majority of people I would say did evacuate overnight,” said Glenn Smith, senior administrative officer with the Town of Hay River. “We are recognizing that there are still quite a few people that have chosen to stay on the island or perhaps in some cases have returned (from evacuating), but we are strongly advising that people evacuate off the island.

“There is still more ice to come and potential for jams and pushes and releases. It is very volatile.”

The town issued its latest update on Saturday evening, stating that as ice flowed through the main river, some outflow also escaped into the West Channel toward Great Slave Lake during the day.

“A release past the Paradise Gardens area occurred later this afternoon and is currently moving through Paradise Gardens,” stated the notice.

“It is expected to arrive into the main town overnight. Significant portions of southern ice is anticipated to follow in the coming days.”

The municipality has set up a registration centre at the community centre for residents evacuating to sign in, but people can also do so through the municipality’s electronic form at or by calling 833—699-0188.

Smith reported that water levels remain extremely high and that there has been localized flooding along the West and East channels, along with some areas in and around the water treatment plant and Beach Road.

“Some water breached the West Channel berm today then resided. Some ice crossed the water treatment plant road as part of the flooding,” the town reported in a Saturday evening advisory.

By Saturday night, the town reported that the East Channel banks near the Hay River Museum had been breached with water and ice and 100, 101 and 102 streets had begun to see flooding.

Water was also reported flowing into ditches at 103 Street with ice pushing into sections of the Mackenzie Highway south of Porrit Landing.

“The highway is expected to be closed while crews work to remove ice and ensure safety,” stated a Saturday evening advisory.

Hay River basin

The municipality stated during the day that water levels remained very high throughout the entire Hay River basin, including farther upstream along the Hay River and other bodies of water, such as the Steen River and Chinchaga River.

Additionally, Great Slave Lake has risen more than 20 centimetres over the last week.

Fifty to 70 millimetres of precipitation was forecast for Hay River over the weekend, and on Saturday, the town saw 24 mm of rain between midnight and 7 a.m.

“Precipitation is stressing the breakup conditions as well as contributing to high levels of surface water in the community,” states the advisory.  

Smith said water levels in the Hay River basin and in other areas seem to have been fairly consistent with how they were expected to factor into a potential flooding season weeks in advance. But the weather has come as a bit of a surprise.

“I think that is fair that all conditions and reporting were pointing to what we saw last year, and we have definitely had more localized flooding this year,” he said. “What wasn’t expected, and what was probably the unique variable, was the situation with precipitation here and in northern Alberta.”

The municipality is continuing to provide updates throughout the weekend through its communication channels, including its website and Facebook page.