Alberta's Preparation for the 2014 Flood Season

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flood season is hereLast year Alberta was no more or less prepared for flooding than any other city around the world. The lesson was learned the very hard way. This year the province is a world leader in flood preparedness.

  • Alberta's forecasting abilities have been stepped up. An alarm system has been installed to track river levels in various places. It also monitors about 40 rain gauges in flood-prone areas. If the rain falls hard, the alarm will phone some river flow forecasters. These forecasters can then calculate the location and severity of the flooding, and warn municipalities before it starts. The province will also release mobile apps to keep its residents informed of the latest flooding news.

  • Many cities, including Calgary, have accumulated the necessary materials to construct temporary barriers in strategic areas. As such, the river and rain intensity alarms might enable mitigation measures that would not have been possible without early warnings. 

  • Over the next two years, the province will invest $100 million for various flood mitigation on roads and bridges. For example, Highway 1A at Jura Creek, which was washed away in 2013, has received a brand-new concrete box structure to replace the old corrugated steel culvert. This will better handle the creek's water, gravel and debris flow. The Bow River Bridge on Highway 547 east of Calgary is also being extended to the north to accommodate future flooding. The roads and bridges to be strengthened or altered are chosen specifically because they are at risk of being washed away and because they link large communities to each other.

  • The banks of smaller streams and rivers are being fortified. For example, the river banks at the Sheep River Bridge on Highway 22 are being built larger, stronger and wider. Studies are on the way to calculate the placement of permanent berms around the province.

  • The large rivers and basins will unfortunately not be ready for the 2014 season. Engineering studies are currently being performed on the Bow, Elbow, Highwood, South Saskatchewan, Sheep, Oldman, Red Deer and Athabasca rivers to assess what can be realistically done to strengthen their banks or divert some of their water. The province's plans to divert the Highwood River and that for the Elbow River Dry Dam are currently in the community and environmental consultation stage.

While we are understandably impatient for quick fixes, the studies for and construction of, effective permanent fixes will take time.

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