Small Alberta towns deal with flooding after weekend storms, Exshaw Creek project questioned

Click to play video: 'Residents of Alberta mountain community ‘scared’ by unusual flooding'
Residents of Alberta mountain community ‘scared’ by unusual flooding
WATCH: Residents of the small Alberta hamlet of Exshaw are feeling tense, as flooding has hit many families in the mountain community west of Calgary. As Gil Tucker reports, residents say this situation is something they’ve never seen before – Jun 1, 2020

Several small towns in Alberta are dealing with flooded homes, streets and buildings on Monday after a weekend of severe weather brought heavy rain to parts of the province.

Residents of the hamlet of Exshaw are trying to recover what they can after the rain, along with melting snow in the nearby Rocky Mountains, exacerbated an already growing flood problem.

According to residents Brent Peters and Vicki Fleetwood, flooding issues started about 11 days ago.

Residents believe the flood mitigation work on Exshaw Creek that was finished this spring is partly to blame. The work, done by the MD of Bighorn County, was approved by Alberta Environment and Parks.

The couple said this situation is different than they’ve seen in previous years — including the devastating flood of 2013 — as much of this is groundwater flooding.

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“The concern is, it’s the first of June. We have three weeks before all the snow is going to come down out of the mountains,” Peters said. “We really believe this is the tip of the iceberg.”

Peters said the flooding has gotten worse, and that any time it rains, they see basements and yards fill with water.

Longtime resident Brian Thompson, who’s lived in Exshaw for 33 years and was dealing with a flooded basement Monday, also said he believes this year’s flooding issues are different because of the mitigation project.

“What would take three weeks to come up, came up in three days,” he said. “Where’s it going to stop? I’m really scared.”

Thompson also said the water is coming from the ground up because the water table is being forced up by the work done on the creek.

“It’s our feeling that it’s the mitigation project in the creek at sending us all this extra water,” he said.

“What they’ve done is they’ve dug the main creek bed, made it a lot bigger, a lot deeper all the way up, and there are a bunch of places on the way down where the water just goes straight into the earth.”

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As Mike Desrosiers tried to get a handle on the water in his flooded crawl space and yard, he said the issue appeared to be primarily coming from groundwater.

“That river is not high enough to do this,” he said, adding there’s no drainage in the river anymore and it’s causing back-ups in low spots.

“We are being fed water that we weren’t being fed before and the only significant change is in the creek,” he said.

The hamlet’s community hall had about 30 centimetres of water on the floor on Monday morning, and community members gathered to help move everything from the gym and conference room to higher ground.

Flooding in the Exshaw community hall on Monday, June 1. Gil Tucker/Global News

Peters said four pumps are working to pump the water out of the hall through a large fire hose, but he doesn’t think that plan is sustainable.

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“They can’t keep up,” he said. “We cannot pump the volume of water that’s coming down the mountain.”

When asked about the flooding in Exshaw and whether the creek mitigation project was causing further issues, Alberta Environment and Parks said “snowmelt and recent thunderstorm activities have increased flows on the Bow River in the Canmore and Exshaw areas above its normal range for this time of the year.”

“However, these flows are not unique as we have seen similar or higher flows in the past.”


Acme homes under water

Nearly 170 kilometres away and further east, people in the southern village of Acme are surveying the damages from what Mayor Bruce McLeod described as the worst flooding he can remember.

“The whole system was overloaded,” McLeod said. “Storm lines, sewer lines, everything was overloaded,” adding there was lots of hail in the area as well.

At least 30 homes in the town of about 650 residents were impacted by the flooding, with no estimate of the extent of the damages.

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“I have been here for 25 years and I talked to someone this morning who has been here about 45 [years] and they have never seen it like this before, so historically-wise is this is the worst we have had ever,” the mayor said.
Residents use a boat to get across flooded areas in Acme, Alta. on Monday, June 1. Carolyn Kury de Castillo/Global News

Homeowner Chris Cottrell told Global News his daughters, aged 13 and eight, had to be rescued from their home by firefighters as it filled with water.

“The water started getting higher so we called the fire department and said, ‘Let’s get some sandbags in front of the doors.’ That turned into the fire department telling us to get out of the house,” Cottrell said, calling the situation “very surreal.”

“Because the water was coming up faster than they expected,  within a half an hour we had a foot of water. [It] went from an inch to a foot and then within an hour it was probably at two feet.”
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Along with damage to homes, the village’s campground and golf course were also flooded.

The high waters also forced the closure of Highway 806, which runs along the village border, on Sunday night, and two of Acme’s only thee entrances were impassable because of the water.

Firefighters are seen in a flooded area of Acme, Alta., on Monday, June 1. Carolyn Kury de Castollo/Global News

McLeod said the village will be putting in a request with Transportation Minister Rick McIver to see what the provincial government can do to help with the roadway problems.

The village has been working on a more than $100,000 overlay and drainage study to determine how to mitigate flooding in the area, but it wasn’t done in time to get ahead of this year’s rain storms.


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