What to know about Fort McMurray's 2024 river break season

For one, it’s dangerous to wander down to the ice.

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It’s river breakup season in Fort McMurray and the municipality is warning people to be careful around the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers.

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What is river break?

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It’s when the river breaks. More specifically, melting ice thins as the weather gets warmer. Because of how the rivers are shaped as they pass through Fort McMurray, there is little ice movement when the rivers crack and break into ice chunks.

Pressure builds against the melting ice until it gives way and rushes downstream like bullets fired from a rifle. Some ice can be pushed on shore and it’s easy to be swept away by the river. So, stay away.

In other cases, this buildup causes the river to spill into Fort McMurray. The April 2020 flood caused an evacuation impacting more than 15,000 people. It is estimated the flood caused more than $424 million in insured damages and $617 million in uninsured damages.

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The municipality has a live feed of the Athabasca River if you can’t watch from a safe distance. If you live in a flood zone, you should:

Community updates will be posted to the municipality’s website and social media accounts. There is also the Alberta Emergency Alerts app and the AB Rivers app.

don't do this
People gather by the Athabasca River to watch the river breakup on Sunday, April 26, 2020. Don’t do this. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

What about those annoying berms in downtown?

If you’re having trouble navigating the temporary flood berms, the RMWB has maps of all temporary berms and road closures. These temporary berms won’t be used after flood mitigation work is finished.

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Most flood barriers and berms surrounding downtown, Waterways and TaigaNova Industrial Park will be finished by 2026. The barrier stretching along Clearwater Drive from Riedel Street to Longboat Landing—known as Reach 6—will be finished by 2028.

Flood mitigation is Fort McMurray’s largest urban construction project. Budget 2024 included $33.8 million for construction. About $13 million has already been spent. Another $103.9 million is needed to finish by 2028.

The federal and provincial governments have contributed a combined $20 million. Mayor Sandy Bowman and administration hope to secure more funding, and administration has applied for a $40 million grant from the federal government.

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