Rural residents feel ignored on flood rebuilding, mitigation

Rural Albertans affected by last June’s flood, which is considered the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, are frustrated in their plans to recover, rebuild and mitigate future damage.

Most of the attention continues to focus on Calgary and High River, but farmers and acreage owners have few guidelines on how to proceed with rebuilding and flood mitigation, said Shirley Pickering of the Bow River Basin Council.

“There’s a certain acceptance that if we protect the town, we’re doing the noble thing,” Pickering said after a Nov. 26 speech to the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association conference.

However, it’s unclear how berms and flood mitigation measures in High River and Calgary will affect rural dwellers downstream.

“For rural people, the whole flood process is a problem because number one, they’re trying to make decisions about what to do and the flood mapping hasn’t been done, so how is that going to turn out?” she said.

“There’s no real clear process for them. They have to do it on their own, for negotiating whether they’re in a flood plain or not, and they don’t have the information.”

Outdated provincial flood plain mapping became apparent immediately after the flood, and Andre Corbould of the provincial government’s flood recovery task force said Nov. 27 that mapping is part of the post-flood strategy.

He also acknowledged that getting information to affected municipalities has been a challenge.

Pickering, who lives along the Little Bow River downstream from High River, said some rural landowners are building berms to guard against future flooding, but there are no guidelines or research on how these measures will affect adjacent landowners and others downstream.

Similarly, berms in the town of High River could increase risk for those living downstream if they speed water flow and volume.

She said it appears rural dwellers will be allowed to rebuild or develop near rivers, even though the specific areas aren’t defined.

“They’re going to allow development in fringe areas, but what will that look like, given ground water can rise in those fringe areas and move septic around, or even intensive livestock operations or manure storage?”

In her presentation to AIPA, Pickering showed photos of displaced septic tanks, washed out oil battery sites and containers of potentially toxic chemicals washed into fence lines and tree stands.

In his presentation, Corbould said the key elements of the provincial flood risk mitigation plan are:

  • Overall watershed management.
  • Flood modelling, prediction and warning systems.
  • Flood risk management policies.
  • Water management and mitigation infrastructure.
  • Erosion control.
  • Local mitigation initiatives.
  • Individual mitigation measures for homes.

He said measures will include better guidance on future development along rivers.

“The language has been soft in the past and it has allowed people to develop in the floodway,” he said.

Those who build on a flood plain will be expected to bear some responsibility if future flooding occurs.

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