October 20th, 2019

City could help rural flood efforts after its own

By COLLIN GALLANT on October 10, 2019.

NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT
City council meets Monday in chambers at city hall. Once it finishes with its own flood mitigation measures, the city could look at assisting southeast Alberta with more.

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

The City of Medicine Hat may lend support to regional flood management projects, but not until mitigation efforts inside city limits are finalized and paid for, members of a committee said Wednesday.

Six years ago the city was one of 15 municipalities in southeast Alberta that formed a Regional Drainage Committee to grapple with overland flooding issues caused by heavy rain in rural areas.

This month the group hopes to solidify support as it seeks provincial and federal funding for a $152-million construction program to expand reservoirs and build relief spillways on the St. Mary’s Irrigation system and creeks in the region.

Those disaster grant programs are cost-shared with local governments, and would require the city to put up $2.5 million in total if six major projects all go through.

Local administrators told the infrastructure committee on Wednesday they consider river levels a greater and more likely concern than creeks, though the regional program will have an effect on creek levels in Medicine Hat.

“It has to be looked at in terms of risk mitigation,” said municipal works manager Stan Nowakowski. “The further (these projects) are away from the city the lower the benefit to the city, but there is some value.”

Specifically, the RDC would like the first project to be the HorseFly Spillway, which could empty excessive volumes on the St. Mary’s Irrigation system to the Oldman River. It would divert water past the Town of Taber in cases of quick spring melt or intense storms like those that flooded the region in 2011 and 2015.

The system sends water east and eventually to the Seven Persons Creek and Medicine Hat.

Even with government grants, the $47-million project would need various amounts from regional governments determined on a sliding scale. That includes $760,000 from Medicine Hat, $1.8 million from Cypress County, $2 million from Forty Mile County and a combined $3.5 million from the town and M.D. of Taber, among others.

“In principle, I don’t know why we wouldn’t support it,” said chair Robert Dumanowski.

“To be cynical though, with budgets being discussed at all levels … I’d be curious to see if we’ll ever see a dollar (in grants), in which case we wouldn’t have to match dollars. I hope I’m wrong.”

The committee endorsed a staff recommendation that the city support the effort, but make potential financial help contingent on several factors, including grants and the city’s own flood management program.

Coun. Jim Turner said four of the RDC projects would add water storage capacity, likely boasting irrigation and the general agricultural sector, but he saw few direct benefits.

“Once we get our (flood projects) done, I don’t see how this will help (our flood management),” he said.

The city’s own mitigation program began in 2014 and planners hope to bring forward a final determination of the city’s flood footing this autumn, that is, where permanent measures are needed and where sandbagging would suffice.

That includes the secondary phase of a berm in Harlow, some measures along the Seven Persons creek in the Kipling Road area, and an approved but not yet built section of berm near Industrial Avenue.

In 2011, the city declared a state of local emergency when high water in the Murray Lake reservoir near Seven Persons threatened to burst through a dam and send high volumes down the Seven Persons Creek. Only minor flooding occurred that year, but in 2010 and 2012 Cypress County saw heavy damage when rain caused overland flooding that entered the city along three creeks.

In total six projects to build spillways and expand reservoirs along the St. Mary’s irrigation district would cost $152 million.

Closest to Medicine Hat, an expansion to double the size of the Murray Reservoir would cost $25 million, and a similar relief spillway west of the Sauder (Rattlesnake) reservoir, would link the system to the South Saskatchewan River north of Seven Persons at a cost of $13 million. Raising the Paradise Creek Dry Dam in Cypress County could cost $13 million.

Expansions of the Chin ($39 million), and Sherburne ($13 million) reservoirs are also proposed.

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