Officials shift focus as flood threat declines

Saskatchewan waterways | Worst-case scenario avoided, says Water Security Agency

The threat of widespread flooding in Saskatchewan eased earlier this week, but emergency management officials were still watching several trouble spots as the last of the snow melted.

“Overall, we’re seeing a decrease in the overall threat of flooding,” emergency management commissioner Duane McKay said in a May 6 flood update.

“I think a lot of that can be attributed to late runoff and some fortunate happenstance in that it didn’t all occur in all areas at the same time.”

Water Security Agency spokesperson Patrick Boyle said the protracted melt allowed snow to sublimate and melt into the ground.

Most of the snow cover in the grain belt disappeared over the weekend and the runoff was making its way into the river systems.

He said the Wascana basin was the last unknown. It was among the last to melt because of heavy snow pack, and water wasn’t expected to move completely through the system until late this week.

The agency was shifting its focus from streams and rivers to lake levels as water from the Moose Jaw River, Qu’Appelle River and Wascana Creek made its way into the Qu’Appelle lakes.

To get there, the water passes through Lumsden and Craven, where flooded market gardens and impassable roads were affecting local residents. Boyle said the levels were not expected to be as high as 2011 because each waterway was coming through in stages.

Flow through Lumsden May 6 was about 210 cubic metres per second, compared to 300 m3/s in 2011.

“Essentially what’s happened there is the worst-case scenario has been avoided,” Boyle said.

The worst has likely passed for Radisson, Borden and the surrounding Rural Municipality of Great Bend, which struggled for more than a week to hold back water. Levels were declining, but Borden and the RM remained under a declared state of emergency.

Also under an emergency declaration as of May 6 were the RMs of Elfros, Fish Creek, Wilton and Rosthern, the town of Rosthern and the First Nations of Poundmaker, Sakimay, Muscowpetung, James Smith, Onion Lake and Cowessess.

Local flooding was causing most of the problems in these areas as well as in the RM of Corman Park and near Blaine Lake and Wakaw.

McKay said response teams from the government were helping communities put sandbags in place and pump water. Most communities are in much better shape than they were when rain fell in 2011 because they have undertaken flood mitigation and prevention projects.

However, he said the volunteer base is burning out a bit, particularly along the Qu’Appelle lakes where levels will still rise.

“There is a little bit of strain in terms of their sustainability so we will be moving rapid response teams into those areas over the next couple of days to assist them in maintaining (their efforts),” he said.

Boyle said there is no flood risk on the Souris River system.

“We’re really into a water management scenario here,” he said.

“We’re going to be filling the reservoirs because they were actually lowered below the required level in anticipation of the spring melt.”

Officials were also monitoring conditions in southwestern Saskatchewan where low relative humidity and high temperatures were causing wildfires. Firefighting equipment has been moved into Swift Current, and McKay said rapid response teams were on alert.

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