City & Politics, Planning

Regina braces for ‘major flooding’

Some residents of Regina may want to start building a miniature Noah’s Ark, as the massive amount of snowfall the city received during the winter is set to start melting and is expected to cause major flooding.

From October 2012 until this March, the City of Regina received a record of more than 200 centimetres of snow, or a bit more than six feet. The previous record for snowfall in the city was 194 centimetres back in the 1970s.

With temperatures expected to start rising within the next couple of weeks, all that snow will turn into water and begin filling the rivers and streams in the area. This includes Wascana Creek, which meanders its way through the City of Regina beginning in the northwest and continuing out into the southeast.

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The city has identified problem areas to watch as the snow continues to melt, including the 11th Avenue Bridge near the RCMP Depot, the nearby 13th Avenue Bridge and nearby York neighbourhood, the Les Sherman Park at 17th Avenue between Pasqua and Elphinstone streets and the Crescents area near Wascana Creek.

Memories of 2011’s snowmelt are still fresh in many minds, as that year’s flooding caused considerable damage to many homes in Regina and southeast Saskatchewan. For a couple of days in Weyburn, southeast of Regina, one of the main intersections connecting both halves of that city was blocked with sandbags to prevent flooding.

While flooding did occur and caused considerable damage to businesses and homes near that area, it wasn’t as detrimental as it could have been if the sandbags hadn’t have been there. Oh yeah, did I mention that that intersection also had Highway 39 – the main road leading from Regina to the U.S. border – cutting through it and was affected by the flooding?

This year, water levels are predicted to be more than two feet higher than in 2011. The city has begun preparing for the potential flooding by filling sandbags and removing snow from areas predicted to be affected. The plan is to contain the spring runoff along the city’s creeks to parks and other green spaces. This will mean many parts of the bike path adjacent to the creek will be under water for many weeks.

To be honest, it’s kind of cool to see such massive flooding around the bike path areas. It’s an event you don’t see every day and is sort of like watching a car crash. This “car crash,” however, sits there for a number of weeks until it gets warm enough for the water to evaporate, or drain away once all the dams downstream have been opened.

Unfortunately, the human and material costs sustained in the flooding can be incalculable. To see all of one’s possessions and home devastated, flooded and destroyed by the water is psychologically damaging and frustrating. In 2011, a small community near the Saskatchewan-U.S. border had 34 of its homes completely wiped out. The water rose to the height of the rooftops and the only way to get around was by boat.

In Regina, the city will have 5,000 large sandbags and 100,000 smaller sandbags. There will also be 550 metres of Hesco barriers. These are large, collapsible containers that can be filled with sand. They would be similar to a physical berm. The two-foot increase in water levels is derived from information from the province’s Water Security Agency. This organization has forecasted 90 cubic metres per second of water to flow through the city’s creek system – 24 cubic metres higher than in 2011.

However, some people have questioned the Water Agency’s predictions of 90 cubic metres. All that water that came in 2011 didn’t just disappear within the year. It was a very, very slow process for the ground to absorb all that moisture. In driving from Regina to Weyburn, many pieces of farmland were still under water in September 2012. The ground was just too saturated to take in all that water.

As for the ground in Regina, well, when your community is built on clay gumbo – a soil type which is a native soil to the region which swells and shrinks with moisture – you sometimes never know what you’re going to get. Winter is a good predictor of just how moveable and damaging the soil can be. If you get enough moisture, the ground heaves and causes major cracks in cement and sidewalks.

So should Regina expect not two extra feet of water but possibly four extra feet of water this spring during the flooding? And if that’s the case, are we really prepared to face what’s surely going to be the biggest flood we’ve seen in quite some time? If it doesn’t start to rain anytime soon or hit double-digit temperatures quickly – the weather forecasters are saying no to that – the snow should melt slowly. That would at least allow people to prepare for the inevitable water.

If we do face an extra four feet of water, though, it might be time to figure out how long a cubit is and how much lumber we’ll need to build an ark. Mind you, Noah had at least a couple of months to build his. Regina might only have a couple of weeks to do the same.

Jason Antonio is the Regina correspondent for Spectator Tribune.

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