With temperatures dropping, the Sheep River and Okotoks' storm ponds are becoming unsafe to play around.
Local first responders are reminding people of the dangers of thin ice around town.
On the Town of Okotoks website, they state, "Okotoks Fire & Rescue and Municipal Enforcement would like to remind residents that there is a real danger of falling through the ice on storm retention ponds and the Sheep River due to changing water levels. Water quality and changing weather conditions, ice quality and thickness can be significantly reduced."
Storm ponds are particularly precarious in the wintertime.
Deputy Fire Chief Dave Hodgins explains.
"They're NOT a natural pond, but will contain any of the road salt or, actually, any fluids that are coming off the roadway become a part of the water and ice in that pond. They're designed to trap these elements so that they do not reach the river," Hodgins says.
The salt from the road runoff weakens the ice in the storm pond, making it unsafe to skate or walk on.
"The materials that are going in will actually make the ice weaker. But, also, because there's a fairly continuous flow into the storm pond, it creates variations in ice conditions that can't often be seen from the surface," says Hodgins. "We quite often will see ice that can vary several inches within a few feet of each other, because of the flow that goes on all year round under the surface."
Because of the variety in ice thickness, Hodgins advises people to not chase after pets or animals if they make their way out onto the ice.
"Call 911. We will come out. Again, we're trained, and we have the equipment to rescue animals," says Hodgins. "We have had instances where people follow their natural instincts and attempt to rescue the animal, themselves going into the water. Too frequently we end up with a couple rescues, of the person AND the pet that they were trying to get."
That’s why, according to the Town of Okotoks website, "Storm Pond water/ice contact is prohibited. It is dangerous to walk, play or skate on any open bodies of water."
On top of the storm ponds, it's advised to be careful near the Sheep River.
"The river in Okotoks is always flowing all year. Which, those currents, again, will have inconsistent ice thickness throughout," explains Hodgins. "With that flowing water, if somebody does enter the water, and it's flowing, it does become extremely dangerous. Particularly if they get swept underneath the ice, it becomes a really hazardous position for them. And it is a hazardous response for the firefighters and a difficult rescue."
Okotoks Fire and Rescue works with the town to help provide safe skating options every year for those who are interested.
The Town of Okotoks website has a list of all the outdoor skating rinks that people can safely enjoy.