Saskatchewan dams may send water to flooded towns

Residents of a village in southeastern Saskatchewan say a dike on the Souris River has breached and that most of their community is under water.

REGINA — Residents of a village in southeastern Saskatchewan say a dike on the Souris River has breached and that most of their community is under water.

“The hole got bigger and bigger and the water started coming in faster and faster, and now pretty much our whole street is under water,” said Rick Noble, a resident of Roche Percee who has taken refuge in a hotel in nearby Estevan.

The community issued an evacuation alert on Saturday following a warning from the province that it was forced to release extra water from dams upstream because a deluge of rain had filled their reservoirs.

Noble said that meant he and other residents were packed and ready to leave, but noted there was still a rush to get out and that one car that left right after him got stuck.

His mother-in-law, Joanne Willows, lives up the hill and says her house is fine but that the water level is deep in the community of about 160 people.

“There’s a playground that has a little building, and about all you can see is the top third of it, and you can see the top of the play structures,” said Willows, who was packing to leave.

Willows said she’s leaving because of concerns she wouldn’t be able to get in or out of her home.

Mayor Reg Jahn said on Saturday that the decision to leave the town rather than erect more sandbags was made over concerns that if the water went any higher, there was a good chance the sandbags would channel water toward a railway bridge and cause it to collapse.

If that happened, Jahn said, the bridge would plug up the river and cause further flooding.

“We lose either way,” Jahn said, noting people in the community were weary from weeks of battling floods.

Up to 75 millimetres of rain fell on the province’s southeast between Friday and Saturday, causing significant swelling of the Souris River. A mobile home park had to be evacuated by boat near Weyburn and the city’s waste sewage treatment facility was overwhelmed, prompting the municipality to issue a boil-water order.

The province explained it had to release water from several dams because the levels in their reservoirs were at near maximum allowable levels.

The Saskatchewan government said Sunday that it won’t likely need to increase flows from the reservoirs right away, but warned more rain could be on the way.

John Fahlman with the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority said some forecasts are calling for 35 to 50 millimetres of rain for sections of the province’s southeast.

Fahlman said the reservoirs are balancing now, but since they are full, the outflow at the dams may need to change if more rain falls.

The extra flow from the dams has prompted a number of communities downstream to issue evacuation alerts for some low-lying areas.

Premier Brad Wall has announced he will delay his departure for the Western Premiers Conference this week so that he can tour the flood-affected part of his province on Monday.

Twenty communities in Saskatchewan are under local emergency declarations.