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Saskatchewan communities prepare for flooding

April 25, 2013, Regina – Sandbags are being filled and flood control barriers are being put in place as communities across southern Saskatchewan prepare for a deluge of water.

April 25, 2013
By The Canadian Press

April 25, 2013, Regina – Sandbags are being filled and flood control barriers are being put in place as communities across southern Saskatchewan prepare for a deluge of water.

The City of Regina has small sandbags, as well as larger, bulk sandbags along areas of Wascana Creek, which runs through the capital. The city is also using HESCO barriers, which are fabric-lined, wire mesh containers that fill with sand and stand more than one metre high.

Jay O'Connor, emergency management co-ordinator for Regina, says the city is planning for the worst and is doing everything possible to keep water away from homes.

"We use a combination of them depending on the level of water that we're expecting in the area and the amount of time that we have to set things out," Jay O'Connor, emergency management co-ordinator for Regina, said Wednesday.

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The city's plan is to let park space on either side of Wascana Creek flood, if necessary.

"By not confining the creek system too much, we allow it a little bit of room to spread, we don't get the same elevations. If you squeeze the creek system, the water level eventually goes up," said O'Connor.

"We want to give it sort of it's maximum flood plain to work in or to flow through, while at the same time trying to protect or reduce any impacts or inconveniences to our residents."

It's a familiar scene in Regina.

Areas where the sandbags and barriers are now in place were also flooded in 2011 and this year is expected to be worse.

The Water Security Agency has warned that the entire southern half of Saskatchewan will see above normal or well above normal run-off.

The agency says run-off is expected to be very high and flooding is likely from Moose Jaw to Indian Head, including Regina, and south past Weyburn to near the U.S. border. Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford are in the red zone too.

The City of Moose Jaw is preparing nearly 40,000 small sandbags, about 800 larger sandbags and the wire-mesh barriers.

"Our first responsibility always is to our first responders, make sure that they're safe if there's any kind of response, then to save lives and protect property and the environment," said Rod Montgomery, Moose Jaw's deputy fire chief and emergency management co-ordinator.

"We've prepared for a worst case scenario, I mean worse than 2011. Will it be? I guess we'll wait and see how that plays out. Certainly we're better prepared."

Moose Jaw issued a warning to the public Wednesday about possible ice jams because of increased flows on the Moose Jaw River. The warning urged residents to stay off the ice and away from the river and be alert for sudden changes in water levels.

The big question is when the flood will start, because the snow melt has been delayed by colder-than-normal temperatures.

There was more snow than normal in many areas of Saskatchewan this winter. A precipitation map shows areas circling Regina and Moose Jaw and another around Saskatoon had more than twice as much snow than average between Nov. 1 and the end of March.

The rest of southern Saskatchewan had 1 1/2 times to twice as much snow than normal.

"There's no doubt it's been an unusual winter and I think everybody in Western Canada has probably experienced lots of snowfall and snow that's hung around for a long time," said Galen Heinrichs, water and sewer engineering manager for the City of Saskatoon.

Heinrichs says Saskatoon is not putting out sandbags at this point.

He says there are a couple of things working in the city's favour including the fact that September was very dry so the ground can absorb the snow melt. Geography also helps. The South Saskatchewan River runs through Saskatoon, but it is protected upstream by the Gardiner Dam and the river itself doesn't have as many watersheds or creeks pouring into it.

"Even though we're keeping an eye on it, we don't really expect anything significant or severe to happen," he said.