High waters close roads as rains continue

High water has forced the closure of the Forestry Trunk Road west of Rocky Mountain House.

High water throughout Central Alberta continues to cause trouble for farmers, gardeners, beach bunnies and road crews.

As the shoreline on local lakes swamp their beaches, bridge abutments are being washed out and roads have been closed in vulnerable areas of the West Country because of heavy rains and high stream flows, say provincial and county officials.

A section of the Forestry Trunk Road from Nordegg south to Hwy 752 was closed indefinitely on Monday morning after two bridges were washed out and the roadbed itself was damaged, said Russ Watts, operations manager for Alberta Transportation in Red Deer.

A number of municipal roads in Clearwater County have also been closed because of excess rainfall, said chief administrative officer Ron Leaf.

One bridge was washed out as were sections of road in the North Fork, Hummingbird, Peppers Lake and Cutoff Creek areas.

Crews were out on Monday to start fixing the roads, but how much they will accomplish depends on the weather, he said.

“They’re calling for rain here again today and potentially tomorrow. If the water levels reduce, there is a chance that we’re going to have those roads open.”

Later this week, staff will post updates on the county website advising weekend travellers of any closures that may be in effect, said Leaf.

Right now, there is limited access to the North Fork area from both the Forestry Trunk Road and from Hwy 752, which runs south and then west from Rocky Mountain House.

High streamflow advisories and flood watches were issued during the weekend for most of the river systems that pass through Clearwater County, which contains headwaters for the Red Deer, North Saskatchewan and Athabasca systems, he said.

“We had flood watches on the weekend for both the North Saskatchewan and the upper Red Deer,” said Leaf.

While the rising water has caused problems, Leaf said it may have reached its peak, depending on how much more rain comes down over the next few days.

At this point, the threat of flooding is not even close to the devastation that occurred in 2005, when campers were stranded on the wrong side of washed-out roads and water from the Bearberry Creek and Red Deer River flooded through much of the Town of Sundre.

While the Clearwater is high, its flow on Monday was much lower than it was during the 2005 floods, said Leaf.

The Clearwater is currently flowing at about 950 cubic metres per second, compared with 2,400 recorded in 2005, he said.

Sundre Mayor Annette Clews said that the banks of the Red Deer River have continued to erode, threatening to carry sections of the town downstream. However, there is no threat so far of any flooding near the scale of 2005.

The town has been working with the province to try and fund an engineering project that would stabilize the riverbanks and reduce the threat of another major flood, said Clews.

Environment Canada meteorologist Greg Pearce said that while no records have been set so far this month, the Red Deer region is already nearing the total amount of rainfall it normally gets in June.

As of Monday afternoon, the weather station at Red Deer Regional Airport had received 78.4 millimetres of rainfall so far this month, said Pearce. The region normally gets 92 mm during June.

The record rainfall for June was set on June 20, 1970, at 99.6 mm. The record rainfall for any day of the year was set on Aug. 7, 1938, when the city was deluged with 124.2 mm of rain.

Pearce said local rivers and fields will get a brief reprieve from the seemingly endless rain this week, although there are a few thundershowers to come.

However, he is expecting an upper ridge to move in on Friday, bringing yet another dump of around 20 mm.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com