EDMONTON -- Unseasonably warm weather over the past three weeks has seen a significant increase in activities like skating and sledding on unstable stormwater facilities in neighbourhoods around Edmonton, EPCOR said — and it’s only December.

“So far this year, this season, we have received over 30 reports,” EPCOR spokesperson Amanda Ash told CTV News. “To put that in perspective, last season we saw a total of 21, so this number is incredibly alarming.”

What people need to know, according to Ash, is that the city’s 240 stormwater facilities are not typical ponds. They are, in fact, part of the city’s drainage infrastructure, designed as a collection pond which holds runoff from city streets before it eventually flows into the river.

“This runoff contains a number of contaminants and what happens is, when these contaminants, when they are in the facility, can actually eat away at the ice from underneath, making the ice incredibly unstable,” warns Ash, who also says the water in the stormwater facilities are continually moving, meaning the thickness of the ice can change drastically.

Kelly Carter, CEO of the Lifesaving Society, echoes Ash’s warning. “With the unseasonably warm weather that we’ve had in the last few months, ice in general just is not as strong as it usually is at this time of year,” said Carter.

With more people enjoying the outdoors because of warmer temperatures and COVID-19 restrictions, Carter has advice for bystanders should they witness a dangerous situation.

“It’s important to realize that if someone does fall through, we don’t recommend that they go out to assist or help. Call 911 right away so that emergency services can be activated as soon as possible and try and talk that person into breaking the ice and getting back up and crawling towards a safe location.”

And a warning for pet owners as well. 

“A lot of times people might be out walking their dog and their dog goes out on the ice and they fall through, and it’s really important that people don’t go out there or try and help rescue their dog,” warns Carter. “What we’ve seen in statistics is that often the dog will survive and can get out but the individual that might go out there in good support doesn’t make it.”

“You can pretty much guarantee that every pond that you see in your neighbourhood is a stormwater facility,” said Ash.

“As we enter the holiday season, we really don’t want to see tragedy strike to a community or family and it’s important that we realize that drowning doesn’t discriminate,” said Carter. “It can happen to anyone at any time.”