‘Flood warning’ for Bow River near Banff, Canmore

Near Calgary, stretches of the Bow, Elbow, Highwood rivers and Fish Creek are on a flood watch

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The province has issued several flood advisories for rivers and streams as a forecasted deluge of rain hits southern Alberta.

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Heavy rains are expected to melt the higher-than-usual mountain snowpack, increasing flow rates and water levels in several rivers and posing an increased risk of flooding. Environment Canada estimates Calgary and nearby mountainous regions will see 75 to 125 mm of rain by Wednesday morning, with localized amounts as high as 150 mm.

Alberta’s River Forecast Centre has issued flood warnings for the Bow River near Banff, Canmore and Exshaw, and for areas of the Little Red Deer River and Red Deer River southwest of Red Deer. Stretches of the Bow and Elbow rivers near Calgary are on a flood watch, as are the Highwood River and Fish Creek in High Level and Foothills County. Several Highwood tributaries in the area are on a high streamflow advisory.

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The Bow is expected to get the most rain in the Banff and Canmore area, between 90 and 150 millimetres, according to river forecasters. The Highwood River, which flows through High River, is set to get between 100 and 130 mm.

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For the Bow River basin, the River Forecast Centre said water level rises of one to two metres are possible as well as basement seepage and flooding. The Elbow could see minor out-of-bank flooding upstream of the Glenmore Reservoir and trails may be impacted downstream. Water is approaching the bottom deck of the Centre Street bridge in High Level, but flows are expected to remain in the dike system.

The Town of Banff says trails near the river will be closed and sandbags are being prepared. It encourages residents to sign up for its emergency alert system at The Town of Canmore says more than 50 mm of rain will cause flooding issues in low-lying areas and is continuing to monitor the situation. The town closed the pathway under Bow River Bridge in Canmore last week and further pathway closures are possible. Currently, there is no active sandbagging along the riverbanks in either community.

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The rainfall this week is anticipated to be significantly less than in the June 2013 floods, when about 220 mm of rain fell over three days causing an estimated $6 billion in damage and resulting in the deaths of five people.

High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass said the town isn’t anticipating a flood risk anywhere near 2013 levels, especially with improved infrastructure and the town buying out some at-risk properties since that event. Anticipating a less severe impact on the Highwood than in 2013, Snodgrass said the town isn’t worried about the incoming rain “but we’re also not complacent.”

High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass on May 19, 2014.
High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass on May 19, 2014. Photo by Lorraine Hjalte /Calgary Herald

“We know very well what we’ve experienced in the past and we’ll never take our eyes off that river, especially this time of year,” said Snodgrass.

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“If you look at the river, the colour of the river, the smell outside, all of those things, it brings a lot of memories back for all of us.”

Still, Snodgrass said the town is confident in its ability to shield residents from another significant flooding event.

“We’re a long ways away from ever testing the true amount of what our infrastructure can support,” he said.

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On Sunday, the City of Calgary began preparing flood mitigation efforts in advance of the downpour.

It lowered water levels at upstream reservoirs on the Bow River and at the Glenmore Reservoir to make room for anticipated floodwaters and closed pathways in lower-lying areas and several stormwater outfalls along the Elbow and Bow rivers. The city has materials stockpiled and available for riverbank protection and temporary barriers if they’re needed. The city also issued a boating advisory, suggesting residents stay out of the Elbow River. 

“The forecast is significantly smaller than the 2013 floods, and therefore we’re confident at this point,” said Calgary’s water resources director Francois Bouchart on Sunday.

Since 2013, the city has made significant investments in flood prevention including a downtown flood barrier running across the city’s core from the Peace Bridge to the Reconciliation Bridge. The city has said improvements have reduced Calgary’s flood risk by 55 per cent and potential flood damages by $90 million every year.

Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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