Preparations for potential flooding were under way in Calgary and surrounding communities Tuesday as rainfall warnings continued and rivers swelled across southern Alberta.
Environment Canada said to expect rainfall totals of between 75 millimetres and 125 millimetres by Wednesday morning in parts of the province. The heaviest rainfall was predicted for the western region – 150 millimetres or more along the foothills and eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Some areas of Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary, had already received about 130 millimetres by Tuesday morning, said University of Saskatchewan hydrologist John Pomeroy, who has monitoring stations throughout the Rockies.
“They’ve got a lot more to come,” he said.
Pomeroy said that included headwaters of the Elbow, Highwood and Sheep rivers with higher stream flows coming.
The executive director of the emergency management branch of Alberta Environment said there’s more rain in the forecast overnight and the province’s river forecast centre continues to monitor the situation.
“We do update the forecast and the warnings and the advisories as the system progresses,” said Lisa Jackson, who noted snowfall instead of rain in the high mountains Monday helped to reduce the risk of flooding.
As a result, Alberta Environment downgraded flood watches on the Highwood River upstream of High River, Alta., and the Bow and Elbow rivers upstream of Calgary to high stream flow advisories.
Both communities were hit hard during flooding in 2013, which left at least five people dead and caused billions of dollars in damage across southern Alberta.
High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass said the town was keeping a close eye on the Highwood River.
“We are a long way away from anything that 2013 looked like,” he said Monday.
Calgary issued an advisory for both the Elbow and Bow rivers earlier this week and water levels were lowered in upstream reservoirs to make room for potential flood water.
The city also declared a state of local emergency late Monday afternoon “out of extreme caution,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
On Tuesday, winds up to 90 km/h caused broken trees, power outages and flashing traffic lights throughout the city.
Sue Henry, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said crews were responding to calls as needed and officials continued to monitor river levels as the rain started to taper off.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” she said. “Our state of local emergency remains in effect and we continue to monitor the conditions as we expect the rivers to crest in the coming hours.”
The city closed St. Patrick’s Island and Prince’s Island Park in the Bow River near downtown as a precaution, she said.
Sal Howell, who owns the River Cafe on Prince’s Island Park, said she was prepared for any potential flooding.
“This isn’t the first time for us,” she said. “We’ve been operating on Prince’s Island for 31 years and the island, of course, sits in the middle of the Bow River. It’s a beautiful park, but we are definitely in a floodway.”
Howell said she and her staff, as well as family and friends, spent Monday moving fresh produce and thousands of bottles of wine from the restaurant’s cellar to a safe place.
“We are hoping for the best, but gearing up for the worst.”
Howell said the restaurant had extensive flood damage in 2013, so they learned many valuable lessons.
City crews installed a Tiger Dam – flexible tubes that work as a flood barrier – Tuesday around the restaurant.
The city also closed Memorial Drive, a major east-west roadway along the Bow River, to build a temporary berm to help protect communities north of the river.
Francois Bouchart, director of water resources with the city, said the berm would be finished late Tuesday.
“It will remain in place until the peak of the event has passed through the city,” he said.
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