Back in the flood of 2005, a lot of farmers whose property touches the Red Deer River lost a good chunk of their land to erosion. A lot more also gained hundreds of tonnes of new topsoil, as murky river water dropped a heavy layer of fertile silt on the flat fields and pastures that make up the river’s ancient floodplain.
But for better or worse, it was determined that these events are just the hand of nature.
If you farm near the banks of a meandering stream like the Red Deer River, it’s understood that natural forces are going to change the local geology once every few decades. So it’s expected that farmers will build far enough up the riverbanks and away from the stream so as not to be in danger of flooding.
And if a river carves itself a new course across somebody’s farmland — as happened in 2005 — not too many people are saying it’s society’s job to put things back the way they were.
So if that’s the case with farm property, why isn’t that the case with recreational property?
Nobody disputes that the Town of Sundre is in grave danger of severe flooding the next time two fairly common weather patterns emerge: a spate of hot weather in the snow-capped mountains, followed by perhaps three days of steady rain.
The likelihood of that happening has got to be close to 100 per cent in this part of the country at this time of year.
The flood of 2005 caused the Red Deer to flow in a new course near Sundre. The banks in the area are very shallow, as the river’s path is shallow and new.
Anyone who stands at the point of divergence can easily see what it would take to bank up the new course, so the river will go back to its old path.
But rivers also cross a lot of political boundaries. Changing a river’s course takes co-operation between the federal and provincial governments, and all their overlapping environmental departments. Everybody has to do a study, everybody has make recommendations.
And the clock is ticking on the Town of Sundre and its residential and recreational lots, whose initial appeal has always been proximity to the river.
It makes no sense to allow the town to be destroyed by floods, simply because we believe in letting nature take its course.
The fix — to divert the river fully back into its old course — is not a catastrophic bit of engineering. As MLA Ty Lund put it: it’s not rocket science, nor is it too much to ask.
There’s just this: if it becomes government’s job to divert rivers for the sake of towns, sooner or later a flood is going to come down the channel that overwhelms human engineering.
When that happens, nobody’s going to sit back, shrug their shoulders and say that’s nature’s hand. They’re going to blame — and perhaps sue — the government.
The government said this area was safe! Now look what happened!
It also remains to be asked why natural forces are something farmers must live with, but not people with motorhomes in an RV park on a floodplain.
In this case, let’s protect the town. But there should be forewarning about development in the area: the upper part of town might someday be waterfront. Town planners should beware.
Floods, ice storms, hail, hurricanes, droughts are all reminders we are not masters of this Earth.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.