High river levels called worrisome

Already-high river levels are a worrisome sign in Sundre, where measures to protect the eroding riverbank have been stalled by a lack of funding. “We are fearing a bad spring,” said Mayor Annette Clews.

Already-high river levels are a worrisome sign in Sundre, where measures to protect the eroding riverbank have been stalled by a lack of funding.

“We are fearing a bad spring,” said Mayor Annette Clews.

“Our water levels are up on both Red Deer (River) and Bearberry Creek.

“With all the snow we’ve had out west at the headwaters, we could have a potential disaster again come spring.”

The community saw extensive flooding in 2005 when a major flood changed the course of the river. Erosion problems have continued since. A section of walking trail has disappeared into the river and wastewater and water lines, sections of roadway and an RV park are at risk.

In August, the town chose a $2.3-million plan to prevent erosion and safeguard the community.

To divert water away from the most vulnerable parts of the riverbank, engineers propose building 14 spurs out into the river to slow water flow at those points. The last bank protection measure involves “armouring” 90 metres of bank with riprap near the town.

But funding for the project remains elusive. The town contends the provincial and federal governments have jurisdiction over the river and should be paying for erosion control.

Clews said town officials met with Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner, Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau and Rocky Mountain House MLA Ty Lund last month to discuss the problem. In an important step, the provincial government agreed that erosion problems were a continuation of the 2005 flooding problems.

That concession means the town may be able to apply for funding from of the province’s disaster relief fund. Money was provided to the town in 2005 to handle immediate flood damage, but it did not address the river erosion problems and was not provided on an ongoing basis.

“For us to access again we would have to had a new disaster or apply under different grants, which unfortunately don’t exist for that kind of remediation work that needs to be done.

“So then acknowledging it is a continuation of 2005, and should have been dealt with then, is a big step.”

However, the town has been given no promises of funding yet and been told to wait until the April provincial budget because there is no disaster funding left.

That would come too late to put erosion control in place for the spring snow melt.

Town officials and the local Save Our Sundre group, a lobby group of local citizens, are continuing to press the government for help. They are trying to arrange a meeting with Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette to see if he has any funding available since there is a road at risk.

Save Our Sundre chairman Jim Eklund said it’s frustrating that everyone seems to agree there is a problem, but there is no funding to fix it.

“You always read in the paper there’s always funding for everything else,” he said.

Eklunds said it would cheaper to fix the river now than compensate landowners later.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com