High River: ‘most puzzling flood situation’

Agriculture came out OK after the recent flood in southern Alberta.

Agriculture came out OK after the recent flood in southern Alberta. Clearly, the impact has been severe in Calgary and a number of smaller centres dependent on their proximity to rain-swollen rivers and watersheds.

Individual farms and ranches were affected, but they’re few compared to the physical devastation in residential areas. Our hearts go out to those folks whose lives will be severely altered because of the disaster.

There are photos of thousands of flooded acres in the affected areas and one ponders what the effect will be on crops and pastures. It all depends on how much moisture lies in fields and how long it will take to drain away. Much of the south already had delayed spring seeding, which put emerging crops in a perilous situation for survival. Many may end up being drowned. The next few weeks will tell as crop insurance adjustors begin to make their rounds. A bright spot had been pasture and hay conditions, which for the most part were excellent. A couple of weeks of dry hot weather would do wonders to improve the overall situation for crops and pastures.

No sooner, however, did the flood situation begin to abate than questions, concerns and yes blame were arising from various players. In reality, the flood in the general area is nothing new; four similar and larger floods had occurred during the early years of the 1900s, along with numerous lesser flooding ever since.

Very significant flooding occurred in 1995, 2005 and 2007. During that more than 100-year period, governments took various steps to mitigate future damage from floods — but it never seems to be enough. Suffice to say in many parts of Alberta, floods are part of the hazard of living in those areas.

The most puzzling situation is the High River area, which appears to be the most flood-prone area of Alberta — yet government officials continue to blissfully approve the development of ever more residential subdivisions on obvious flood-plains. The only hope for the future of this town is to build a massive diversionary floodway around the townsite. Otherwise, history will repeat itself — and soon.

Ironically, a provincial government flood hazard mitigation report made in 2006 by former agriculture minister George Groeneveld, who happens to be from the High River area, contained a number of significant flood mitigation recommendations, some of which were acted upon. However the big one about not building houses on flood plains was ignored. That will come back to haunt the government. Opposition political parties have already made some pointed references to that matter.

The High River area is also of particular concern to the cattle business, because it’s home to the Cargill Foods beef-processing plant. The facility itself wasn’t damaged, but it was temporarily closed, mainly because so many of its local employees were made homeless by the flood. Flood damage to area roads and bridges also made transportation logistics and cattle supply something of a nightmare to the plant. Another consequence of the flooding was damage to the CPR mainline, which caused significant delays in the grain and oilseed flow to west coast shipping points.

Climate change activists not unsurprisingly alleged that it was obvious what caused this disaster. Weather experts had a different view, noting that the rain deluge and subsequent flooding had more to do with a unique confluence of stalled weather systems and a subsequent rapid snowmelt.

Be that as it may, I suspect flooding in the area has been a problem for the past 10,000 years. Interestingly climate change, particularly global warming, has been viewed by many as being a positive change for crop production in Alberta. Warmer weather and a longer growing season would increase crop yields and expand the opportunity to grow lucrative corn and soybean crops in this province. But I digress.

The Alberta government has so far pledged $1 billion to recovery and rebuilding. It’s bound to eventually cost a lot more. Most of that money will go to cities and towns, but some will be destined for rural areas particularly infrastructure.

One does wish that government will now think more seriously about spending even more money on flood-mitigation projects in flood prone areas — being floods will surely happen again.

— Ahead of the Heard


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