Stormwater Ponds: UNSAFE For Recreational Use

You might consider them community ponds, but stormwater ponds are working facilities that are unsafe for ALL forms of winter recreation including sledding, skating, hockey, cross-country skiing, and walking. There have been many instances in which people -- primarily children -- have fallen through the ice. For this reason, the use of stormwater ponds should be strongly discouraged.

Here are some facts about stormwater ponds worth knowing:

  • They are typically warmer and more turbulent than natural bodies of water, resulting in faster melting of ice.
  • The water contains road salt due to 'run off' from roads, parking lots and sidewalks. This salt leads to faster melting of ice.
  • They retain groundwater year-round. Water below the surface is constantly moving, which means it does not freeze as evenly as natural bodies of water.

A 2018 University of Alberta study demonstrated that unlike natural bodies of water such as lakes, stormwater pond ice thickness is not predictable. Based on the results of this research, many municipalities have created bylaws to restrict or ban the use of stormwater ponds for recreation.

Even with bylaws in place, someone may want to go out onto the unpredictable ice that forms on stormwater ponds. We therefore recommend that signage warning citizens to stay off the pond be installed. Some suggested warnings include:

  • Stay off
  • No swimming/boating/recreational activities allowed
  • No pets allowed

It is good risk management practice to consider the following control measures and ideas:

  • Education and publicity -- Raise awareness of the dangers posed by frozen stormwater ponds. Consider engaging local media, creating informational materials, and using social media and your municipality's website.
  • Emergency information -- Provide potential users with emergency information at the site, such as what to do in an emergency, who to call, etc.
  • Direct people to appropriate and safe places for their desired activities -- Suggest people skate at a local arena, ski at a nearby park or golf course, or use other suitable locations for their cold weather activities.