It’s still too early to assess the “full extent” of the impact on southern Alberta’s farmland in the wake of massive flooding that has led to the evacuation of several communities in the region and shut down the city of Calgary.
The province’s agriculture minister, Verlyn Olson, said Friday on Twitter that the ag department will work with farmers to assess the impact of flooding and help with recovery “after the immediate crisis has been dealt with.”
Earlier this afternoon, Olson tweeted that the flooding in agricultural areas “appears to be localized around waterways and is not widespread.”
Crops in the region will likely recover, but are expected to be more vulnerable. “Any organism that has got stress has lower immunity, so they’re going to be vulnerable to fungal diseases and insect pests,” Neil Whatley, a provincial crop specialist at Stettler, told Reuters on Friday.
The provincial ag department also tweeted a reminder to farmers and ranchers in the region to take precautions — including moving animals out of low-lying areas. The ag department has gathered resources online advising livestock producers, grain growers and other rural residents on flood preparedness and steps to be taken once the water subsides.
CLICK HERE to visit Alberta Agriculture’s flooding information page.
A stubborn area of high pressure in Alaska and northern Alberta has pulled a stream of moisture up into southern Alberta from the U.S., causing the heavy downpours.
Over 100 millimetres of rain have fallen in some parts of southern Alberta in just two days, and forecasters say the precipitation won’t let up until Saturday.
“The flooding situation is very acute in the foothills and the mountains,” said Chris Scott, director of meteorology at The Weather Network, noting that 220 mm, equal to nearly six months of normal rainfall, had fallen in 36 hours near Canmore, about 90 km west of Calgary.
By mid-afternoon Friday, rivers had washed out a number of roads and bridges, forcing many residents of High River, about 45 km south of Calgary, and other small towns to flee by boat or helicopter.
Alberta RCMP had confirmed by early Friday evening that the bodies of two people had been recovered from the Highwood River, near High River, and a woman who had been reported swept away along with her camper into the Highwood River on Thursday was unaccounted for.
The RCMP told CBC later Friday evening that a third body had been located in the water but could not yet be recovered “due to the dangerous surroundings around this person.”
RCMP on Friday asked residents who were evacuated from High River to register at evacuation shelters in nearby Blackie and Nanton, “to determine if any other citizens are missing due to the flooding.”
The area is also home to Canada’s largest beef packing plant, owned by U.S. agrifood giant Cargill and sited just north of High River. A spokesperson for Cargill’s Canadian head office in Winnipeg was not immediately available Friday to discuss the plant’s condition.
All dams on the Oldman and Bow rivers are reported to be at capacity and all the spillways have been activated. Irrigation reservoirs across the region are also reported at capacity and water is being released as fast as it is coming in.
Trees and debris were being swept down the Bow, which flows through Calgary and which crested at around 1,500 cubic metres per second overnight Thursday, at more than five times the normal flow rate for this time of year. The Trans-Canada Highway was closed at Canmore after Cougar Creek burst its banks.
Flows on the Bow, and on the Elbow River which flows into it, were around three times as high as during the last serious Calgary floods in 2005, which caused an estimated $400 million in damages.
Flooding in Calgary this week has so far led to the evacuations of tens of thousands of residents and the shutdown of Calgary’s downtown core.
Calgary is also home to one of Western Canada’s best-known agricultural showcases, the Calgary Stampede. Stampede Park and many of its facilities still appeared to be flooded on Friday and events at the park have been cancelled through Sunday at the earliest. Water in the nearby Saddledome arena reportedly rose up to the 14th row of seats.
However, Stampede staff said in a statement Friday, “as soon as flood conditions subside, our volunteer and employee teams will be working hard to create and deliver the Calgary Stampede on July 5-14 as scheduled.”
Meanwhile, Stampede Park staff, other than key operations personnel needed onsite, were told in a separate statement to “please continue to look after yourself and your families.”
About 1,300 Canadian Armed Forces troops have been deployed to the region to assist with search and rescue, evacuation and other logistics, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement Friday after touring the region.
Federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) are also now available to provide financial support to the Alberta government for eligible disaster response costs, Harper said.
North and east
Further north, the city of Edmonton is also now under a flood watch, according to CBC, which said water levels on the North Saskatchewan River are expected to rise by 3.5 metres by Saturday.
Further east, the Manitoba government on Friday issued a flood warning for the northwestern community of The Pas, where it expects the Saskatchewan River to rise to levels seen in 2011 as floodwater travels east from Alberta. The crest is expected to arrive at The Pas between 10 and 14 days from now, the province said Friday.
The South Saskatchewan River flows through Alberta and Saskatchewan and is receiving floodwater from tributaries in southern Alberta, the Manitoba government noted. These waters move east and eventually flow into Manitoba by way of the Saskatchewan River through the Cumberland Marsh, which straddles the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border, then flows to The Pas and ultimately to Lake Winnipeg.
The river level is rising as Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency releases water from its Lake Diefenbaker and Tobin reservoirs in that province to make room for floodwater from Alberta, the Manitoba government added.
River levels from the Alberta border to Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan could rise by seven metres starting at the boundary on Saturday, with peak levels through to Sunday. — AGCanada.com Network staff/Reuters, with files from Will Verboven of Alberta Farmer.