Highways washed out as weather system dumps on holiday weekend

The ongoing saga of water woes across the Prairies continued, from frozen pipes this winter and spring to a deluge of rain over the Canada Day weekend, for many starting June 28. Instead of enjoying camping, festivals and the outdoors, much of Saskatchewan and Manitoba spent their time pumping water, sandbagging or being evacuated from their homes due to the excessive rainfall.

Elfros Niagara R june30 1-35pm
Hwy 16 next to Elfros, where Birch Creek crosses, was flooded and damaged by the excess runoff from the rain.

Between 100 and 230 millimetres (9.4 inches) fell on parts of southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba on the weekend, overwhelming saturated ground and already-full waterways. Fields with emerging crops were under water in many parts between Winnipeg and Regina.

Although Wadena and points north got off relatively easily, Wynyard reportedly had five inches (127 millimetres) or more of rain during the weekend and that amount increased to the east and southeast. Moosomin received approximately 200 mm.

Locally, sloughs and creeks filled and overflowed, with water covering Hwy. 35 and many grids in the RM of Elfros. Hwy. 16 was closed between Dafoe and Elfros, first due to water flowing across the highway, then to the collapse of the highway at Birch Creek near Elfros.

All traffic travelling eastbound from Dafoe was diverted north to Watson on Hwy. 6 and all traffic travelling westbound on Hwy. 16 was rerouted north to Wadena on Hwy. 35. Anyone stuck waiting to cross at the intersection of Hwys. 5 and 35 in Wadena had to wait several minutes for the noticeable increase in traffic coming up from the south and turning west onto Hwy. 5.

On top of the rain, winds whipped up to 60 km/h throughout the weekend. SaskPower reported outages caused by a tree on the line on Saturday the 30th in the Kelvington-Lintlaw-Kuroki areas for much of the day. The Wadena-Wynyard-Foam Lake triangle, as well as LeRoy, Naicam and several other parts of the province, also reported outages on and off over the weekend.

Birch Creek pillar R

Environment Canada workers were still monitoring water levels at Birch Creek on July 1 as the water continued to threaten the highway. Water had flooded Hwy. 16 between Elfros and Foam Lake but traffic was still allowed through with flagpersons and signs on the site. Warning signs were also placed on Hwy. 5 near Bruno and on the way to Saskatoon, at the corner of Hwys. 5 and 2, where water was running over the road but the roads were still passable.

Going south from Quill Lake to Wynyard, the already tenuous Grid 640 was being watched as water levels rose.

A total of 53 towns, villages, cities and RMs had declared states of emergency in Saskatchewan by July 2, including the town of Watson, villages of Quill Lake and Elfros, RM of Porcupine Plain, and the cities of Yorkton and Melville.
St. Peter’s Hospital in Melville evacuated all 24 patients, and 128 long-term care residents at St. Paul Lutheran Home were evacuated on July 1 but were able to return on July 3. Residents in the town of Gainsborough, close to Carnduff, also spent the weekend being evacuated.

The Saskatchewan government’s initial assessment indicates the flood damage will likely exceed that in 2011, as it has been more widespread and includes much of the affected areas’ infrastructure. After touring some of the hardest-hit areas, Premier Brad Wall said this year’s damage is expected to surpass the $360-million bill footed by the province three years ago. Because of the disaster, the office for the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program was opened on July 1 for those who had questions regarding provincial assistance.

According to Ducks Unlimited, both Fishing Lake and the Quill Lakes have seen water rise and more is expected as the creeks continue to pour in from other sources. Provincially, the Qu’Appelle water system is being closely monitored, with Crooked and Round Lakes approaching 2011 levels.

The unseasonal deluge has placed pressure on existing municipal pumping stations as they attempt to keep up to the volume of water moving through sewer systems. All communities, including the town of Wadena, are asking residents to be conservative with water use until water levels drop.

By Charlene Wirtz and Alison Squires

Wadena News


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