Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Four days of wet weather in review

An aerial view of St. Mary's Dam, June 20, 2014
Dan Stumborg photo
Chris Davis and Toni Lucas, Pincher Creek Voice

Southern Alberta was affected by a wet weather event which, in the Pincher Creek area, effectively began with thunderstorms on June 15,  a power outage early in the morning June 16,  rainfall warnings and high streamflow advisories on June 16 as well,  and effectively ended on June 19, 2014. Several southern Alberta communities were hit hard by the storm, including Crowsnest Pass, Claresholm, Cardston, MD of Taber, Town of Magrath, Claresholm, Fort Macleod, Coaldale, Medicine Hat and the Blood Tribe Reserve. Pincher Creek and area, while affected, was not as seriously affected as originally feared.  For Town dwellers it was almost a non-event.  Rural residents of the MD of Pincher Creek were not all quite that fortunate.

PCCEMA response

When asked what distinguished this June's wet weather event from last year's, in terms of the response of the official emergency response,  Pincher Creek Emergency Management Agency (PCCEMA) Deputy Chief Pat Neumann cited improved communications.

"Communication was one of the biggest changes this year. That was one of the things we had earmarked throughout the event last year was that people felt they didn't get the notification that they wanted. Between the dam and our organization, we worked on that."  PCCEMA updated their Twitter feed and information hotline regularly during the event.

"The big thing is that we got the word out early this year. Between the Pincher Creek Community Management Agency,and Alberta Dams we did a really good job of making sure that the word was out, and it was reinforced by the media and social media. We were able to give people updates that we haven't done before. The dam was providing us information, so we were able to keep updating the information as the event went on. Instead of giving people a single warning, we were able to give them three or four different levels."

Rainfall was significant during the four day event.  Neumann explained the numbers.  "They called for a max of 200 mils (millilitres), and we still got a fair amount of rain in the area. The town got about 130 plus, somewhere in there."

"South near Waterton they were well over 200 millilitres, 240 I think in areas. The biggest thing that happened this year for us is that it came slowly, over a period of three or four days. That was the biggest difference between this year and last year. Last year it came in 12 hours."

Neumann said people living near riverbanks and downstream of the dams have been better informed as to what to expect in a potential flooding situation. "They have a really good ideal when we say to them 'we are going to be flowing at a 1,000 cubic metres a second,' they know what that means to them and their property."

PCCEMA was on standby 24 hours a day, as long as there were advisories in effect for the area.  "We went to what we call a class three operation," Neumann explained.  "Basically, that means we don't have an emergency centre set up, but we have a periodic one. We had meetings twice a day for a couple of days, just to assess the situation, and to see where we were headed. To that regard, Brett Wuth or myself filled the roll of director for that group of people, as a kind of coordinator. We did visual monitoring, online monitoring through streamflow websites, coordination with outside agencies, we looked at providing assistance to outside communities to see if there were things that they needed that we could provide them."

"We fared very, very well. We were extremely fortunate. We did have some affected residents downstream on the Pincher Creek. Sleepy Hollow did some sandbagging, and it did get as high as two bags up."
"There was just one voluntary evacuation. It's not that they couldn't have stayed in their home, but their road access was cut off when the Pincher Creek was at it's highest. There was no state of local emergency declared in Pincher Creek. A lot of other communities had those. A state of local emergency gives a community extraordinary powers. Declaring a state of local emergency can make one leave their home. I have the ability (in a state of local emergency) to have you removed from your home to protect your life."

At that point the local governing powers can demand the use of equipment from businesses if needed to help rectify the emergency, or situations that happen because of it.
"It gives the power to do the things that they need to be able to do to protect the lives of the people involved. It's not something taken lightly."

"Another thing it does is protects communities against extraordinary legal risk."  Neumann cited an example of what might constitute such a legal risk, the effects of sewer water getting into the water table.

Oldman Dam spillway June 18, 2014
C. Davis photo
Discussion at MD of Pincher Creek council meeting

At the regular meeting of council for the MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 24 councillors talked about the recent flooding events and how their division was affected.

Division 5 Councillor Terry Yagos said that he thought his division was not hit as hard as some of the MD.  "In the north, we didn't get as much rain," said  Yagos.  "There was some overflows on the roads, but nothing major."

Reeve Brian Hammond reported that there was flood damage in Division 4.  "There was some damage to private property and infrastructure."  One resident just east of Pincher Creek suffered significant enough damage that,  according to the Reeve, "He's really looking to probably relocate."  Some of Division 4 is on a floodplain, and Hammond said he visited the area to discuss challenges with the property owners.  He also said that at the Beaver Creek crossing "The bridge is pretty well washed out."
Division map of MD of Pincher Creek No 9

"On everybody's mind was the high water," according to Division 2 Councillor Fred Schoening, who said he believes that Divisions 1 and 2 received the most water over the past flood event.  "The water courses through there were pretty exciting."  Schoening said that he received call from people in both Division one and 2.  He's currently looking after Division 1 due to Councillor Grant McNabb's leave of absence.  "Everybody was really happy with the response that public works made.  If they had a concern, public works addressed it almost immediately, at least by going and looking at it, even if there wasn't anything they could do about it in the immediate sense."

Councillor Schoening brought forward a motion that "The Pincher Creek MD Council acknowledge the extra effort and attention shown by the staff of the MD both in public works and in administration during the recent rain event.  The willingness of the staff to be available after hours and to go above and beyond regular duties to ensure that our community and our municipal district remained safe in that water situation.   Our residents have been taken care of and I think  it has been much appreciated."  This was unanimously agreed to by all members of council in attendance, including Councillors Fred Schoening and Garry Marchuk, Deputy Reeve Terry Yagos, and Reeve Brian Hammond.

We expect to have a more complete report about damage sustained during this event in the MD of Pincher Creek soon.

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