Residents pushing river diversion proposal
Flood 2013: Locals develop plan to divert Highwood River through Tongue Creek
By: John Barlow
| Posted: Thursday, Sep 26, 2013 04:28 pm
A proposal to divert the Highwood River around High River through the Tongue Creek irrigation canal is gain traction, but the provincial government is saying a decision is not eminent.
Three Foothills residents have pitched a plan to use an old irrigation canal and Tongue Creek to build a diversion of the Highwood River around the north side of High River. The diversion canal would stretch about 14 km from Western Feedlots to just east of the Cargill Plant at an estimated cost of $80 million.
One of the architects of the design, Dave Mulder, said the proposal has been circulated to the provincial and federal governments and it is gaining traction.
“This is way cheaper than buying out homeowners,” said Mulder. “If we can get this done there will not be a flood zone in High River.
“You can fix all the dykes you want, but you need to build something that can handle that volume of water. Everything else is a band-aid approach whereas what we are proposing solves the real problem.”
Mulder, Roy Simpson and Jack Ball developed the diversion plan, which outlines using an irrigation canal built in 1905 and portions of Tongue Creek to protect High River during times of high volumes of water in the Highwood.
Mulder said it can be compared to the Red River Floodway, a 47km diversion canal built to divert water away from Winnipeg.
Simpson said the diversion is the only solution to protect High River long-term.
“The only solutions are move the river, move the town or make the river deeper,” said Simpson. “They aren’t going to move the town or make the river deeper so the solution is simple.
“We can’t keep spending money on High River, it is not fair to keep dipping into the provincial coffers, but we have to get the confidence back into High River and I think this gives us some hope.”
Jennifer Renner, special assistant communications for Associate Minister Rick Fraser, confirmed they have looked at the proposal, but the Province is not ready to make a decision on this project or any other diversion proposal.
“Right now we are committed to recovery,” she said. “We are concerned with long-term mitigation and we are open to ideas. We will look at the potential options and when we are ready to act we will call for proposals. We will try to come up with the innovative solutions that are the best for High River.”
MD of Foothills Coun. Ralph Nelson said he too has reviewed Mulder’s proposal and he sees some merit in the project, but it is too early to commit to one option. Nelson said there is still a lot of work to do including flood mapping and using the new flood map technology to identify the best solutions for High River’s flood issues.
Nelson said the new computer flood map technology devised by the MD and High River has the capacity to test various mitigation options to see which one will be the most effective.
“All options are worth looking at, but if we do something we have to use the flood we just went through as the baseline — we have to manage that not less then that,” said Nelson. “Something has to be done, people are expecting that, people need that and we have to come up with a solution.”
The proposal from Mulder would have the canal on the north side of the river, flow north from the Highwood, across Coal Trial and Secondary Highway 543 (Tongue Creek Road), flow into Tongue Creek east until rejoining the Highwood east of Cargill. Portions of the creek and Highwood would have to be widened and straightened to handle the large flows. In addition, a containment berm would be built at the south end of the canal so water would not breach the canal and flow overland into High River. Other infrastructure would have to be built to prevent backflow as well.
Under normal flow conditions the river would follow its natural course through High River, but be diverted during times of high flow.
Building the canal would also impact landowners in the area, but two landowners interviewed, including Harji Hari, said they would not stand in the way of protecting High River.
“I would certainly listen and help any way I could,” said Hari. “It wouldn’t be easy to give up my land, but I am willing to be in the discussion… I wouldn’t want to be the guy who let High River flood again.”
Although Hari said he would be open to ideas, he said he did not think the diversion canal would work because the river is too flat in the area. He said using the Little Bow canal south of High River was a better option because it is deeper and it is a natural drainage course for the Highwood.