Flooding not expected despite risks: Spring runoff forecast

Matt Gardner
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The Water Security Agency (WSA) does not expect flooding in the Prince Albert area this year, despite a spring runoff potential that is well above normal according to their March forecast.

Provincial rapid response team members work on sandbagging houses near the Shell River last summer. Water Security Agency representatives are not expecting flooding this year based on their March spring runoff forecast but note that conditions could quickly change.

But Minister responsible for the Water Security Agency Ken Cheveldayoff noted that prediction could quickly change as new data comes in.

He pointed to a combination of risk factors in the area encompassing Shellbrook and Waskesiu, including above normal snow pack and water levels in closed basins.

“We have well above normal water sitting in those basins, so it is a concern for flooding in the Prince Albert-Shellbrook-Waskesiu area,” Cheveldayoff said.

“But that’s why we’re working now, and I know that RMs and people in the cities, towns and villages are certainly taking this very seriously … Tomorrow’s the SARM (Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities) convention in Regina, and (we’re) meeting with many RMs and communities one-on-one to talk about their specific situations as well.”

Following their initial spring runoff forecast in February, the WSA provides an update in March and subsequently weekly updates.

Spring runoff potential is based on three main factors -- moisture conditions in the fall, snow accumulation in the winter and the rate of melt and actual precipitation during runoff season itself.

Cheveldayoff acknowledged that the snow that fell last year on already-wet ground was a concern for the WSA, since frozen soil prevents additional water from soaking through and can worsen the runoff problem.

“It’s fair to say that we've been concerned about the Prince Albert area all the way through, right from last year through the spring and summer and into the fall,” he said.

“We continue to be monitoring that area very closely … These bigger inflows in the area tend to fill up the water bodies and if they don’t have an outlet, those water bodies stay high for a year or two at a time.”

The March spring runoff forecast predicts near normal conditions for the majority of the province this year, with below normal potential for spring runoff in the extreme southwest and northeast.

While areas across central Saskatchewan will see above normal runoff potential, it is only in the Prince Albert area from Shellbrook to Waskesiu that the spring runoff potential is predicted to be well above normal.

Cheveldayoff indicated that such high runoff potential is a periodic occurrence for the area around the city.

“We see well above normal runoff for the area around Prince Albert as a regular part of our hydrology, something that we would see every 10 to 15 years,” Cheveldayoff said.

“So I think it’s fair to say in the last three or four years we’ve seen well above average, but we know that we can expect that every 10 to 15 years in Prince Albert on a long term average.”

The WSA devoted considerable attention to the Prince Albert area last year, which saw flooding affect a number of areas.

We have well above normal water sitting in those basins, so it is a concern for flooding in the Prince Albert-Shellbrook-Waskesiu area. Ken Cheveldayoff

Perhaps the most notable impact was on Highway 2, which closed numerous times due to flooding over the course of the season.

WSA corporate communications manager Patrick Boyle noted that the government had devoted considerable resources since then in an effort to avoid a repeat of the situation.

“On Highway 2 there, we’ve been working with the Ministry of Highways and looking at that and there’s a number of projects that have been done on it,” Boyle said.

“Last year there were three ditches constructed to move water away from the highway on the north side there … One of the ditches is being lowered and it’s going to provide an additional capacity to move water, so we expect that should be pretty adequate to help prevent flooding on the highway this year and the highway on the north side.

“On the south side we used a combination of dikes and pumping to lower the water level last year and so we got it down a number of metres at the time, but we’re just going to be continuing watching the snow pack there.”

While the WSA believes it currently has enough capacity to divert water off the highway, Boyle added that things can change and that the agency must monitor the situation regularly.

Precipitation levels in the spring can be a wild card depending on whether it arrives as snow or as rain, with the latter able to accumulate particularly quickly.

Looking ahead, WSA hydrologists are predicting fairly normal precipitation levels for the next two weeks -- though as Cheveldayoff noted, “Once you get out beyond five days it’s very, very hard to predict.

“So we’ll be monitoring that going forward,” he added. “But we certainly hope that we’ve turned the corner here and we’ll see a gradual melt starting today.”

The minister pointed to the increasing role of technology in helping scientists and hydrologists at the WSA predict conditions with greater accuracy year after year.

He also noted the $17 million spent across the province last year as part of the Emergency Flood Damage Reduction Program, which aims to help water flow where it wasn’t flowing in an ideal manner.

“That’s money well spent,” Cheveldayoff said. “We’ve done an independent analysis and it shows that for every dollar that we spend on mitigation efforts, we save $20 in damage costs.

“So we think that’s a good use of taxpayers’ dollars, and that’s what we’ve done in the past and that’s what we’ll continue to do in the future.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, Water Security Agency Ken Cheveldayoff Highway 2 Ministry of Highways

Geographic location: Shellbrook, Waskesiu, Prince Albert-Shellbrook-Waskesiu Regina Saskatchewan

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