Flood mitigation approach pleases local officials

By: By Ian Tennant

  |  Posted: Thursday, May 08, 2014 03:38 pm

A lone truck stis submerged in the flood waters near downtown High River during the 2013 flood. The Province is still considering three options to divert Highwood River around High River.
A lone truck stis submerged in the flood waters near downtown High River during the 2013 flood. The Province is still considering three options to divert Highwood River around High River.
Wheel File Photo

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The provincial government received two thumbs up from High River and MD of Foothills leaders for keeping municipalities and other groups informed about its flood mitigation plans and for promptly paying the bills.

“I quite like the way the government is going about this,” said High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass on May 1.

The mayor was among scores of representatives from rural and urban municipalities who attended a daylong symposium hosted April 29 by the Province in a cavernous conference room on the Calgary Stampede grounds.

Snodgrass said the Province appears to be considering all sorts of ideas — good, bad and “crazy” — while also soliciting feedback from various groups and municipalities.

MD of Foothills Reeve Larry Spilak, who also attended the symposium, has also been impressed by how the Province and the federal government have been fairly quick about providing funding and approvals for flood mitigation projects.

“They have been very good to deal with,” Spilak said May 5.

At the April 29 symposium, Robin Campbell, Alberta’s minister of environment and sustainable resource development, told the crowd the Province has committed $600 million over the next three years to prepare the province in the event of major floods like the one last June that saw the Highwood River inundate High River.

Among the major projects discussed at the symposium is diversion of the Highwood River around High River. The diversion options have been reduced to three, or a possibly a combination of the three: diverting water from the Highwood through Tongue Creek to the north of High River and back to the Highwood River; diverting water from the Highwood to the Little Bow River, with the overflow eventually reaching the Twin Valley Reservoir; and the construction of channel that would carry Highwood overflow around High River and back to the Highwood north of town.

An animation of what the northern channel could look like was shown at the Calgary symposium and can be viewed on YouTube by searching for “High River diversion.”

The price tag for the northern channel project could reach $200 million, Snodgrass said.

“I’m happy to hear a big number,” he added, because it says the Province is willing to spend money to save High River from future flooding. “That’s full-on construction, start to finish.”

However, the channel is not necessarily Snodgrass’s and Spilak’s favourite option.

The proposed channel, averaging 100 metres in width and roughly seven kilometres in length, would be situated along High River’s western edge before turning east along the town’s northern boundary en route to dumping water back into the Highwood further north of town. This proposal also calls for realigning a portion of Highway 543, raising the intersection of that road with Highway 2A, and also constructing a bridge on Highway 2A over the channel.

Snodgrass is not convinced either of the northern options is the best or most cost-effective way to protect High River, noting the Highwood naturally empties into the Little Bow and that route would not require major construction.

“We’ve got one shot at doing this right,” Snodgrass said.

Spilak said the MD still prefers a north-south approach, not just north.

Splitting the diversion project between the north and south options should make the problem of Highwood overflow more “manageable,” said Spilak, while giving residents south of High River “more peace of mind.” The reeve said the last thing High River and Foothills want to do is shift a flood onto their southern neighbours.

Snodgrass added he would like to see construction on a diversion start next spring, but he acknowledges it will be a complicated process.

Spilak also said a timetable for a High River diversion is not clear but he too hopes construction begins in 2015.

In the meantime, Spilak reported the MD has spent roughly $4.5 million on rocks to shore up riverbanks and it is nearing completion of six water mitigation projects. Foothills has approvals to start five more flood mitigation projects, which will commence as soon as the current six are wrapped up, the reeve said.

“We feel we are much better prepared than we were last year” before the June flood, Spilak said.

Spilak said he didn’t hear any surprises from the provincial government at the April 29 symposium, but officials did “narrow the choices down substantially.”

At the symposium, Matt Machielse, the assistant deputy minister for operations, environment and sustainable resource development, said the Province is following consultants’ advice and not adopting proposals such as dry dams, one of which was suggested for west of Turner Valley.

Machielse said the province would pursue the three options for diverting the Highwood River around High River, noting the Little Bow option could also provide drought relief in the future.

Participants at the symposium were asked to submit questions via the Twitter handle #H2O14. Jamie Wong asked how the government would consult with landowners who “would be severely impacted” by the proposed north channel around High River.

“In my view we cannot communicate enough,” Machielse replied.

He said now that the list of proposals has been narrowed from 10 down to three the government may be able to start talking to landowners.

“In the weeks ahead that will be a priority,” he added.

Also at the symposium, attendees heard that in April the snowpack at Sunshine Village was at a level similar to 2013.

“But it is the rain that drives” a flood, said Evan Friesenhan, acting director, of the river forecast section of environment and sustainable resource development.

Dr. Matthias Jakob, a senior geoscientist at BCG Engineering, said last June was the “perfect storm,” although he acknowledged some may not like that term. He told the crowd three low pressure cells rolled into Alberta, resulting in moist clouds slamming into the east side of the Rocky Mountains. The resulting rainfall exceeded 200 millimetres in three days and almost 300 millimetres in the Canmore and Exshaw areas.

Friesenhan also said the province will soon be launching a River Basins Mobile app for Apple and Android operating systems. The app will have updates on flood conditions roughly every 60 to 75 minutes, and users will be able to localize the information and advisories.


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