Alberta still recovering from natural disasters

Butter Town was flooded due to an ice jam in northern Alberta this spring.  |  Mackenzie County Photo

People across rural Alberta continue to rebuild their lives after facing a slew of disastrous events over the past year, including major floods up north and wildfires down south.

To help with rebuilding, the provincial government recently announced it is offering about $39 million to 33 communities affected by disasters in 2017-18. They include flooding and wildfires in southern Alberta, as well as flooding events in northern Alberta.

Officials with municipalities receiving the funding say it will be helpful. Up north in Mackenzie County, where a Peace River ice-jam caused major flooding last spring, some residents are still without a home.

“Of the seven houses that didn’t have insurance, two didn’t have any money and are still living in their RVs,” said Peter Braun, the reeve of the county. “Winter is fast approaching. We need to help these residents.”

The flooding there also engulfed a townsite known as Butter Town, as well as neighbouring leased land used for growing crops.

“It’s a large farm area and they lost all of their supplies and stuff,” Braun said. “Everything washed away.”

Braun said evaluators will soon arrive to assess damages. Homeowners, businesses and agricultural operations can apply for funding that can go toward cleanup costs and uninsurable damages. The province is making $7.9 million available for that region.

“It’s a big help,” Braun said. “It sure was devastating.”

Other communities in northern Alberta also experienced flooding. They included municipalities in the Grande Prairie area, as well as communities west of Spirit River.

In southern Alberta, a similar story unfolded last spring.

Following a rapid snow melt, major overland flooding affected many fields and irrigation systems, causing significant damages.

Richard Phillips, general manager of the Bow River Irrigation District, said a concrete-drop structure in one of the drain ditches was destroyed. Replacing the structure cost more than $500,000.

As well, he said culverts washed out and canal banks eroded. The district was also pumping the excess water for several weeks to avoid further flooding. Running those pumps was a big expense.

“We were purely pumping snowmelt runoff just to avoid flooding,” Phillips said. “Had we not run those pumps, there would have been much more widespread flooding.”

The Eastern Irrigation District, the Western Irrigation District and the St. Mary River and Taber districts will be given funding. As well, municipalities south of the Red Deer River will receive help.

In total, $29.1 million will be available to the regions in northern and southern Alberta due to flooding damages. This is separate from the ice-jam funding.

But it wasn’t only flooding that hampered southern Alberta. The region also experienced wildfires in the summer and fall of 2017.

Murray Millward, chief administrative officer with Cardston County, said there is still one rancher in the county who is rebuilding. He said most of the grazing land that was affected was in the Pincher Creek area.

“You really feel bad for the people who suffered it,” he said.

Millward said the county sent crews in to fight the blaze that occurred in and around Waterton Lakes National Park. They clocked in overtime to control the fire so it wouldn’t cross into the county further.

“If it crossed the highway, we could have lost quite a bit,” he said. “We were lucky in that regard.”

Along with the Waterton fire, crews were also battling flames last fall in southeastern Alberta in the Hilda area. Damages there were significant.

The province is making $1.9 million available for communities that were affected by those fires. Along with Cardston County, it includes the Municipal District of Acadia, Cypress County and Wheatland County. The funding is solely for municipalities.

As for the southeastern fire, the province has also provided a one-time grant of $200,000 for producers affected by it. Two-year, interest-free loans of $25,000 were also granted.

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