Whitby Fire Chief reminds residents not to skate on stormwater ponds

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Published December 9, 2021 at 2:16 pm

The Whitby Fire Chief is reminding residents of the dangers of skating or playing on frozen stormwater retention ponds, saying they are “never safe.”

Whitby operates 44 retention ponds across Town, with ten more expected to be installed. The ponds collect storm sewer runoff from rain, snowmelt and water-use activities like car washing.

The water temporarily sits in the pond as it’s treated to remove pollutants before it’s steadily released back into the natural waterways. While the release is carefully controlled to prevent erosion, the water level is frequently changing and always moving.

Access is always prohibited because the water is murky and full of weeds and debris. As a result of the constant motion of subsurface currents, the water never completely freezes no matter how cold it gets.

Water level fluctuations can create a void between the ice surface in the water level weakening the ice. People who fall through can be swiftly moved away from the hole by the currents and become trapped under the ice surface.

“Even if you know how to swim, hypothermia sets in quickly and you can easily get trapped underwater in weeds and debris,” said Chief Mike Matthews, who also noted the ice surface on retention pond are also weakened by run-off from salted roads.

Whitby residents have plenty of options for skating, he added. The Iroquois Sports Arena and McKinney Centre opened recreational skating November 5 and two open-air rinks are scheduled to open in 2022 in Peel Park and Brooklin Memorial Park.

“Please, I urge you to talk to your family and children about why it’s so important to stay off the ice at stormwater ponds,” Matthews pleaded. “Whitby Fire does not want to have to respond to an ice water rescue where someone is trapped under the ice.”

“Stay safe, Whitby.”

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