Spring is finally here and we are all so glad that winter is a memory. May Queen is over, the grass has had its first cut and the trees are finally green. We are all looking forward to enjoying the beauty of spring and being outside. We have had a rain and watched the river come up - as it does every year, and that has led some of us to wonder if this June will be like last June. A year ago we saw devastating floods in Alberta. Locally, we saw some flood damage and it caused us to wonder about years to come. We all learned a lot about Mother Nature and this beautiful river we live so close to.
We have learned that it is large amounts of rain that causes flooding conditions. Last year we saw saturating rain one week, followed by a rain event, which was not typical. This year we haven't received as much precipitation in April and May as we did last year. Can we predict another high water event year this year? Statistically, we probably won't see another flood event similar to that of 2013. Statistically, we have had two 1/100-year flood events (2005 and 2013) so we should be statistically good for almost 200 years. However, we cannot always rely on statistics. Since 2013, the Government of Alberta has improved their weather forecasting, river monitoring and communication protocols with municipalities. We can expect better information - sooner - than ever before.
What we learned from last year is to prepare for emergencies - and we have prepared. The serious concerns from the community were taken to the Provincial Government. Town Council and County Council worked together to bring the same messages forward. Engineering firms studied the river history, mapped possible breakouts of the riverbank as the volume of water increases, and the Government of Alberta approved a recommended berm, which is to be constructed to prevent overland flooding through the County and the Town. That berm won't be constructed by this June, but it should be finished by June 2015.
Alberta Government officials have told us that the Highway 27 Bridge across the Red Deer River is good for another 35 years - and that they will undertake a study to further review the safety of that critical transportation link. Officials have said there is no need for dredging upstream of the bridge to protect it. Engineers and government officials are also examining the riverbank breakout points on the Bearberry Creek that caused overland flooding in 2005. Decisions made to spend millions of taxpayer’s dollars must be made with facts, science, and viable creative options. What we have learned is that solutions to managing the river take longer to figure out than one year. Be assured that work continues behind the scenes to push for a long-term strategy to manage the entire Red Deer River watershed.
My Mother told me to live my life - every day. She didn't say live your life in fear of something that may never come to pass. We all chose to live where we do. There are risks. Prepare for them. We need to get the message out to people who come to our community to visit - that things are great - like they have always been. Our businesses depend on the optimism of all of us, encouraging visitors to come to Sundre to stop, shop, play and explore. There is a misperception out there that the river is contaminated from an oil spill - and it is not. There is still a fear that people shouldn't take a chance and come here because of the floods of last year. The economic impact of 2013 flood event saw a 30% drop in sales in many businesses. We need to counter that fear and negativity with optimism and resiliency - because that is who we are.
So let's get ready for June with all the excitement it deserves - and that we deserve. Let's get out to the parade and celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Sundre Rodeo. Let's celebrate all of the grads going out into the big wide world. They will do us all proud. Get out on the trails for a walk, ride a bike, say "hi" to a stranger and welcome them to our community. Let's live our lives - without fear - as a model to our kids.
If you have any questions, or if you would like to discuss any of these items, please call me at home at 403-638-3535, or chat with any of us on Council.
Be prepared in an emergency; go to www.getprepared.gc.ca to see what you can do to help keep your family safe. In the event of an emergency, the Town will post critical information on sundre.com, Facebook and Twitter.
Mayor Terry Leslie