Submerged roads, waterlogged fields: Spring thaw triggers Alberta floods

Communities across northwestern Alberta are dealing with flooding caused by melting snow and ice jams on fast-flowing rivers.

As of Wednesday morning, information alerts issued by Alberta Emergency Alert system remained active in Birch Hills County, Lac Ste. Anne County, Fairview and Sexsmith.

Flooding has submerged local roads and areas highways, waterlogged farmers fields and filled residential basements.

Rivers, jammed with ice floes, are moving fast and high. 

Crews have been working to minimize the damage, draining clogged culverts, piling sandbags and running pumps to divert water away from homes and streets.

Residents who live and work in the affected areas are reminded to be cautious near rivers, streams and other low-lying areas. Drivers are discouraged from driving through flooded areas and avoid roads barricaded due to washouts.

Berms, temporary dams and roadblocks are set to remain in place. 

As water flows over the dykes, the area of flooded lands is expected to increase.– Lac Ste. Anne County advisory

In Lac Ste. Anne County, west of Edmonton, the Paddle River downstream from the Paddle River Dam remains high and waters continue to exceed the dyke system.

Ice on the Pembina River is now breaking up and moving downstream.

The water isn’t expected to recede until the rivers thaw and warmer temperatures may worsen flooding in some areas.

“The Paddle River Reservoir has reached capacity due to snow melt into the head waters,” reads an emergency advisory.  

“A large amount of meltwater has already collected on the agricultural areas against the dykes and as water flows over the dykes, the area of flooded lands is expected to increase.”

‘Eyes in the field’

The county said its crews have been working around the clock to drain flooded ditches and dislodge clogged drains. Residents are encouraged to report any dangerous flooding damage  to the county. 

“The county wishes to thank those residents whom have reported concerns and issues as this helps our crews map the areas needing mitigation,” it said in a statement.

“By continuing to be our ‘eyes in the field,’ you are assisting our crews in quickly identifying hazards.” 

From pandemic to flood

Flooding began Monday night in the town of Sexsmith, north of Grande Prairie.

As the water shuttered local streets and the town issued a call for volunteers to prepare sandbags, the Grande Prairie Regional Emergency Partnership (GPREP) expanded its operations to include flood mitigation. 

Its six partner municipalities — the City and County of Grande Prairie, Beaverlodge, Wembley, Sexsmith and Hythe  —are working together to deploy workers and equipment.

The emergency response was originally launched last month to deal with emergencies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The partnership activates when there is a significant threat to a partner municipality,” reads a statement. 

“GPREP’s six partner municipalities continue to be in a state of local emergency, allowing a flexible response to emerging needs. Although initially declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this renewal now includes response to overland flooding.” 

The town of Peace River was among the first communities flooded by the spring thaw. 

Peace River declared a state of local emergency on Saturday night as an ice jam filled downtown streets with knee-deep water.

Crewed pumped water throughout the night. By Sunday morning, most of the water in town had receded but farmers’ fields surrounding the community remained waterlogged.

An ice jam in Pat’s Creek caused downtown Peace River to flood on Saturday. (Tom Tarpey)

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