Outdoor enthusiasts in western Alberta take heed: a planned dam release will result in the North Saskatchewan River flowing faster and higher than it normally would this time of year.

Starting Thursday, TransAlta said it will be releasing water from the Abraham Lake reservoir via the Bighorn Dam spillway that flows into the North Saskatchewan River west of Nordegg.

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The release is a proactive operation to manage elevation of Abraham Lake: a man-made body of water controlled by the dam in the Rockies.

River flows will increase over several days and reach approximately 175 m³/s.

The utility company said that’s at the upper end of normal river flows below the dam and is higher than seasonal water flows — similar to what is experienced during spring melt.

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“The public is asked to remain clear of all waterways immediately upstream and downstream of the facility as flows may change rapidly and without notice,” TransAlta dam safety chief engineer Scott Taylor said in a statement.

TransAlta said an ongoing maintenance outage at the generating station, combined with high spring inflows, has combined to make the release necessary.

The land around the dam and lake is popular for camping and outdoor activities, and the river is popular with canoers and boaters.

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TransAlta said its hydro operations team is working with the province to temporarily restrict access around the Bighorn Dam and adjacent area, to allow the release to proceed safely.

Communities downstream, outdoor enthusiasts and recreationists making use of the river should be aware of higher water levels and that the river may contain more sediment and debris than normally expected, TransAlta said.

“Increased water volumes and fast flowing debris will present an elevated risk level to any river users during this period,” Taylor said.

The public is asked to avoid the dam area, respect posted signage and follow directions given by conservation officers and TransAlta staff.

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According to Alberta Environment, the annual melt of the mountain snowpack is almost complete and levels on the North Saskatchewan are generally within the normal range for July.

Other rivers in Alberta, particularly to the south, are flowing at lower rates than normal due to recent hot, dry weather.

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