Floods are becoming the norm
Saturday, Jul 19, 2014 06:00 am
In June 2005 the North Saskatchewan River was high and rising. A few more inches and the water would be over the banks into Edmonton’s Riverdale community. Not long before the river crested safely, I went to a height of land overlooking the valley to take a look. I was struck by how peaceful the scene appeared. The river was very high, that was all.
It occurred to me that somewhere in the back of my mind I had a mental image of a flood as a raging torrent devastating the landscape. Such floods occur, particularly flash floods in normally dry waterbeds during periods of heavy rain. I am told this can occasionally occur in the Drumheller valley. But normal flooding just involves rising water – potentially damaging, more perilous when involving a swift current.
I grew up in Calgary more than 60 years ago. In those days the Bow River regularly overflowed its banks in the spring runoff, causing problems in low lying communities. This ended in 1954 when the Bearspaw Dam was completed west of town. The more common spring flooding around Winnipeg from the Red River was largely brought under control in the ’60s by the “Duff’s Ditch” bypass – until the system was partially overwhelmed in 1997.
Those floods came from spring melting. Now rain regularly generates widespread flooding, as with Calgary in 2005. In 2013 the centre of that city took major damage, while High River to the south was severely wracked by rapidly swelling waters.
Last month I listened nervously to reports of widespread rain flooding in Saskatchewan and Manitoba – I was scheduled to drive to Winnipeg on July 2. I made it without incident. Here and there along the Trans-Canada Highway there were large ponds of submerged farmers’ fields, and occasional stretches of water in the median, but the road remained dry. Nearing Brandon the highway crosses through the Assiniboine River valley, displaying raised water levels and many flooded areas.
In Winnipeg I was staying just 100 metres from the Assiniboine, and attending a function at a site overlooking it from about a third that distance. The waters were high and swift. I went out on a boat tour. The guide was a fountain of statistics on past floods.
The trip back was less benign. Just west of Winnipeg the highway passed over the Portage Bypass. The two bridges spanning it had water up to the girders supporting the road surface. Media and Environment Canada were on site. Later, well into Saskatchewan, I was diverted 20 kilometres north by a closure along the Yellowhead Highway. Continuing west I began noticing many fields still under water and encountered two places where traffic on roads between them had to be controlled.
Severe flooding from rain is becoming a regular feature in western Canadian life. There comes to mind a Second World War song my mother used to sing: You’ll Get Used To It.
Writer David Haas is a long-term St. Albert resident.