Flood 2013

  • The following is an open letter addressed to the citizens of Alberta, from Bill Wahl of Medicine Hat. The letter expresses how Mr. Wahl has been affected by floods, but also points out how water in Alberta is being managed and areas for improvement. Have a read and please continue to share your thoughts with us through FacebookTwitter or Email. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Wahl!


    An open letter to the Citizens of Alberta

    Flood Recovery and/or Flood Prevention

     

    My name is Bill Wahl and I am frustrated!!

    Like others in Medicine Hat and Southern Alberta we live in proximity of the South Saskatchewan River [have for 40 years] and have been affected by flooding, all-be-it not this year due to the installation of a high tech backflow preventer after the 1995 flood. We are thankful to family and friends who helped us move out of our home and for better preparedness of disaster services.

    The main reason for my frustration is that I always thought that the dams on the tributaries of the South Saskatchewan River were there in part to help us out during times of impending floods. The Alberta Government meetings after the ’95 flood reported that flooding was caused by a severe precipitation event that occurred in very close proximity to the Oldman River Dam. That and a combination of technical issues caused by washed out flow sensors, telephone communications and the short time from onset of precipitation to significant increases in inflow did not give dam operators sufficient time to spill water ahead of high water entering the dam. Although dam safety was never an issue, water was released from the dam at a rate no greater then inflow.  So what happened this year?  According to records obtained from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the 2013 peak was ~5590 cm3/s and the 1995 peak was ~4200 cm3/s. The gauging station reports of the 2013 peak was more than 1m higher than 1995.  The cross section of the river valley at other locations will affect this value to some extent. Levels in Medicine Hat never reached those predicted with an increase of 50 cm3/s increase in flow rate over 1995 reported.  Persons who experienced the 1995 levels commented on water levels about 20 cm higher; all this being enough to cause significantly damage in Medicine Hat. How is it that the dam[s] that impact our flow rate could not have done more to mitigate flood issues this year given the knowledge gained from the ’95 flood, and  new technologies for weather forecasting? We have experienced more floods in the past 20 years than the first 20 years of living by the river.

  • The 2013 flood of the Bow River basin has triggered a long-overdue conversation about the natural and man-made factors that caused or contributed to these types of events. Across society, people are now asking pointed questions that relate to mitigation, prevention, headwater management, overlapping landuses, floodplain infrastructure, climate change, and flood proofing.

    The WaterSMART White Paper provides an excellent broad overview of the complexity of this watershed issue and makes clear that integrated solutions are required to meaningfully address this challenge. Appropriately, the WaterSMART report identifies that both engineering and landscape management approaches are required if watershed integrity of the Bow River basin is to be conserved and risk to infrastructure is to managed at an acceptable level.

    As a resident of the Sunnyside community in Calgary, our neighborhood was extensively flooded and most families experienced serious damage to their basements, and in some cases, structural damage to their homes. In comparison to the residents of lower Benchlands, High River, and many other communities, we escaped relatively unscathed. In the aftermath of these events, we are told that those who have experienced flooding are expected to go through the emotions of anger, denial, depression and acceptance. For most affected by the flood, there is a basic need to understand what happened and what factors contributed to an event that so forcefully changed our lives. Over the next several months, more information will certainly come forward to help residents better understand the weather, landscape, and landuse dynamics that shaped this massive event, but a few thoughts are respectfully offered below to help put some of these dynamics into context.

  • Two reports have been released from AI-EES and Alberta WaterSMART, one with conclusions from the February Workshop and another which compares the Alberta Flood Forecast system to other jurisdictions from across Canada and the globe. These reports focus on flood forecasting rather than flood mitigation, and are a follow up to a workshop we live tweeted back in February. As always, if you have feedback we will send it on to the authors. 

    Having attended the workshop, the following would be the top three most interesting things (to the author) mentioned at the workshop.

    1.Data Collection - Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRahs)

    One problem that plagues flood forecasting is a lack of data, however that may change with enough citizen involvement. CoCoRahs is a volunteer program where individuals measure the rain at their home every day and submit information to a database thereby expanding the available data. This database can then be used by Flood Forecasters, Researchers, Modellers, or whoever is just curious to view the data or calibrate models. CoCoRaHs is a popular tool used in the U.S. that allows citizens to provide rainfall data to flood forecasting specialists. Specifically, Colorado used CoCoRaHs as an additional tool for acquiring precipitation data to determine water quantities during their 2013 flood. If you’re interested in contributing, visit the CoCoRahs website for more information. Data collected from southern basins Alberta will be used put to good use. The data submitted from southern Alberta basins eventually feed into the Manitoba River Forecast Centre which uses CoCoRahs in their forecasting systems.

  • Over the past few months, WaterPortal readers have raised concerns about reduced insurance coverage and increased rates related to flooding. We felt this presented the opportunity to revisit the impacts of flooding on insurance and take a look at broader climate change issues that could impact insurance coverage in the future.  

  • March 31st was the due date for multiple reports from engineering groups to submit assessments of "flood reduction projects options". As those reports become publically available they will be added to the Alberta WaterPortal for our users to view. 

    One final report that is already public is Alberta WaterSMART's final report for the Bow Basin Flood Mitigation and Watershed Management Project. It was submitted to the ADM Flood Recovery Task Force on March 31st. This project was funded by Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions and the Task Force.

  • As the flood waters rose in 2013 I was tagged in a post from my friend Drew, who works at Google, asking for help finding someone at the City of Calgary who could provide permission to update the Google Crisis Map. Luckily, I was able to help make the needed contact as I continued to update the WaterPortal with the continuously changing information on the flood. One year later, I've asked Drew to recount his experience working in the Google Crisis Centre during the Southern Alberta flood of 2013.

    Calgary Crisis Map - Alberta Flood 2013

    My name is Drew Cormier. I was born at Rockyview General Hospital and raised in the Deer River community of Calgary. My summers were filled with street hockey and biking through Fish Creek Park and the winters revolved around building the best snow forts with my friends. Despite moving out of Calgary in 2001, I have always considered it my hometown. More recently, I moved to California to begin working at Google in October of 2012.

    In June of 2013, only 7 months after I had begun my new job and life, I started to see disturbing trickles of information pertaining to Calgary through social media. Twitter began to have more and more alerts pertaining to alerts and advisories. Facebook began to fill up with images and videos from friends of flooded streets and evacuations. News websites showed rising water levels at Calgary landmarks like the Saddledome and cars being stranded.

    The final push I needed to begin helping was when I saw that the neighborhood I grew up in had been evacuated. The house I was raised in, my friends and their families that I grew up with, had all been evacuated because of the rising Bow River. At that point I knew I had to do something to help.

  • A recent article written in The Guardian by scientist George Monbiot[1]discusses emergent research coming out of the United Kingdom that tells us rivers do not necessarily store the precipitation that falls in their catchments; but rather the majority of the precipitation is stored in the soils of their floodplains  This scientific finding directly questions the value of traditional flood mitigation measures, such as canalizing and dredging rivers, techniques that are now known to increase flow rates to downstream communities.

    Some scientists are now pushing for the implementation of softer engineered solutions, such as the rewilding of our rivers. Rewilding rivers, among other elements, requires the redesigning of curves and snags back into the river system along with connecting rivers to uninhabited land designated for flooding.The likelihood for downstream flooding can be greatly reduced by creating a catchment for sediment and rock, ultimately reducing the energy and speed of the river.

  • In August 2013, Alberta WaterSMART released the collaborative White Paper,The 2013 Great Alberta Flood: Actions to Mitigate, Manage and Control Future Floods. A broad group of practitioners from across Alberta, Canada and the world participated in developing this paper. The paper was created to provide proactive recommendations for flood management in Alberta.  

    During the creation of the paper, two draft versions were posted on the Alberta WaterPortal with the intent of collecting public feedback. The response was excellent, leading to the creation of two separate feedback documents, which are available here.

    Since the release of the original White Paper, much has been accomplished by different levels of government, various provincial organizations, businesses and individuals. To reflect these efforts, Alberta WaterSMART has revisited the recommendations outlined in the White Paper and created The 2013 Great Alberta Flood: Progress Report on Actions to Mitigate, Manage and Control Flooding to highlight actions and activities undertaken to date, and to outline planned next steps.

  • A final copy of The 2013 Great Alberta Flood: Actions to Mitigate, Manage and Control Future Floods whitepaper has been released. This document consists of collaborative recommendations made by Canada’s leading water experts. The document has been evolving for over a month thanks to the received feedback from water experts and Albertans. This document was written as a collaborative teamwork to determine the recommended actions that should be taken to strategize for future flooding.

    During the creation of this report, two draft versions were posted here with the request for public feedback. The response was excellent, leading to the creation of a separate feedback document titled The 2013 Great Alberta Flood: Actions to Mitigate, Manage and Control Future Floods Feedback Compendium which catelogues the feedback received. 

    We’d like to thank everyone who sent in feedback on the draft iteration when it was posed two weeks ago. Additional information about this document will be posted on the Alberta WaterSMART website as it arises.  

    If you didn’t get a chance to share your feedback or if you have additional thoughts after reading the final version of the whitepaper please do not hesitate to contact us, and like always please continue to check our news section for updates on what is happening around water in Alberta.

  • Welcome to the last instalment in our 'Summer Stories Worth Revisiting' series. This summer there were a number of water stories that took an interesting turn and this past week we've been reposting five stories that are worth a second look. Our last post looks at water restrictions that impacted Okotoks, Turner Valley and Black Diamond in 2014.