Agriculture escapes serious damage

The damaging effect of too much water was apparent in fields east of Osler, Sask.,
June 27. Damage to agricultural land in Alberta has been minimal. |  William DeKay photo

It’s hard to describe something as lucky when it’s in the midst of an event as devastating as the floods that stormed through southern Alberta two weeks ago.

But reports of agricultural damage and livestock losses caused by the flood have so far been minimal.

While High River remained destroyed and Calgary continued its cleanup, farmers and ranchers were still assessing flood effects and few had reported major losses as of June 28, one week after southern Alberta’s major flood June 20 to 23.

“The way it’s being reported to me is it’s largely a river event,” said Alberta agriculture minister Verlyn Olson.

“What’s being reported is, it’s not catastrophic devastating damage. However, we need a little bit of time … to do a proper analysis. From an agricultural perspective, it could have been much worse,” he said June 25.

Irrigation districts downstream from heavily flooded areas in the southern foothills reported damage to infrastructure and from erosion, but high water flows in some regions as of June 28 had prevented a full assessment.

“We were very fortunate,” said Erwin Braun, general manager of the Western Irrigation District, downstream from Calgary.

“We got a bird’s-eye view of course, because our diversion weir is right in the middle of the city and we were watching the flows pretty carefully. The Deerfoot Trail actually made a levy from the water going from Inglewood golf course into our canal, so we would have been flooded had it not been for development.”

The WID diversion is at Harvey Passage in the Bow River, in the heart of Calgary.

“We think it functioned well,” Braun said. “As far as we know, everything is operating.”

While the Bow raged, water from Calgary’s storm system flowed into the Shepard diversion, where it partially settles and is treated before returning to the river.

That has saved the WID more than once, said Braun, and that was particularly true during this flood.

At the peak of concern, citizens in the town of Chestermere, east of Calgary, experienced momentary panic when a rumour circulated that the WID was going to open its floodgates, said Braun.

That was never the case, so the rumours were quelled.

In the Bow River Irrigation District, into which some of the Highwood River eventually flows, an earthen dike near Carseland weir was destroyed in the flood.

Water controller Dave Cholka said that might mean lower water levels at the canal headgates so normal amounts of water may not be diverted into the system. Repairs will have to wait until river levels drop.

However, BRID reservoirs at Travers, McGregor and Little Bow were full and ready for extensive irrigation use expected over the Canada Day long weekend.

Cholka said irrigation district personnel were busy cleaning up debris that entered the system while the headgates were not operating.

As for livestock, Dr. David Chalack, chair of the Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, said animals generally fared well during the floods.

“Overall the cattle out in the feedlots and fields are doing better than any of the humans in this southern part of the province,” he said at a news conference near High River June 28.

There were no reports of distressed animals reported to the Alberta Farm Animal Care hotline.

“It was really quiet on that front,” said hotline manager Pam Miller. The bulk of calls came from people volunteering help.

“Lots of animals were let loose to find higher ground, and in that area there is lots of high ground. On the whole, the livestock either found high ground themselves or were herded to places that were safe for them.”

The Alberta Equestrian Federation put out a call last week for tack, fencing equipment and feed to help horse owners affected by the flood. It can be reached at 877-463-6233.

Tim Dietzler, agricultural fieldman for Rockyview County, said most of the rain fell in the western part of the municipality, including the hard-hit hamlet of Bragg Creek.

“It’s been devastating at Bragg Creek along the houses and fences, but there’s not a lot of livestock in the Bragg Creek area.”

Most of the damage in rural areas was limited to streambed erosion, fences and water pumps.

In Clearwater County, director of agriculture services Matt Martinson said parts of the region had received 250 to 330 millimetres of rain in the past six weeks, with wheat and barley crops starting to show ill effects. However, he said forage and hay yields are likely to be boosted by 20 to 30 percent.

Shane Poulson of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek said his region got off relatively lightly in the flood.

Kim Lutz, agricultural fieldman with the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, said the floods scoured the river and creek beds and damaged basements, but little else.

As of June 28, residents in affected areas were slowly returning home. Still displaced were about 1,600 people in Calgary, 13,000 in High River, 148 in Exshaw and 1,400 in several First Nations communities.

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