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Land owners downstream of Oldman Dam work on flood advisory system

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Bill Jenkins of Fort Macleod views information on a laptop computer with Terrence Lazarus during an open house Thursday at the Oldman Dam.

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David Ardell of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development talks with Loretta Jenkins, Kim Tillsley and others Thursday during an open house at the Oldman Dam.

People living along the Oldman River don’t want to be caught off guard again if heavy rains force Oldman Dam operators to open the floodgates.
The Oldman Dam Downstream Stakeholders Guild was formed to work with dam operators to keep property owners informed of potential flooding.
“We’re talking with these people trying to develop better communication protocol,” guild acting chairman Thane Hurlburt said. “We are making good headway, but it’s slow.”
The guild was formed following flooding in June 2013 after the dam’s floodgates were opened to deal with heavy rains.
The guild has developed a Web site ( where updates on water levels in the dam and streamflows in tributaries is available.
“It’s very difficult to take the emotion out of it,” Hurlburt said. “The more we can keep the emotion out, the further we can get with our negotiations and with getting some stuff down with the government.”
“We’ve all had losses and we all have personal stories but as a whole we’re working with them toward better communication.”
People attending an open house Thursday at the Oldman Dam heard that notification of downstream property owners is the responsibility of municipalities such as the MD of Willow Creek.
The guild wants to discuss notification with the Willow Creek council.
“We want to approach the MD of Willow Creek to get them a little more involved in the situation,” Hurlburt aid.
Hurlburt said one of the measures is to have a live video feed from the dam to provide people living downstream with up-to-date information.
The Web site would have data on releases from the dam during major floods in 1995, 2005 and 2013 to provide property owners with a comparison of current water levels being released.
“We’re making headway,” Hurlburt said. “We’re all frustrated because headway with government is not fast.”
Hurlburt said the group is pushing for flood mapping to be completed and for freedom of information and protection of privacy rules to be expedited to have the cameras installed at the dam.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development held an open house Thursday at the Oldman Dam.
Terrence Lazarus gave Powerpoint presentations on how the dam operates to provide people with information.
Lazarus pointed out the Oldman Dam was built primarily to provide a sustainable supply of water.
“Our primary purpose is to fill the river,” Lazarus said.
Lazarus said it is impossible to predict when there will be a flood. Dam operators take into consideration a variety of factors, including snowpack in the mountains and yearly averages of rainfall.
It is heavy rain that creates flood conditions, and long-term prediction of that volume is impossible.
“We monitor the situation, see what’s happening,” Lazarus said. “We don’t divorce ourselves from the real world.”
Lazarus said the 1995 flood developed in a 12-hour period due to heavy rainfall that was not forecast.
In June 2013 flows rose by 2,000 cubic metres in a 36-hour period.
“That’s a phenomenal amount in an incredibly short period of time,” Lazarus said. “In one hour the in-flows increased by 430 cubic metres and hour. If there was no water in the river whatsoever, just the increase in flow would cause the river to reach it’s banks in one hour.”
In June 2013 Oldman Dam operators released enough water in a 44-hour period to supply the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District for a year.
“These are the kinds of things we have to deal with,” Lazarus said.
Sandberg stressed there has to be better communication with downstream property owners.
“Communication is absolutely key,” Maryanne Sandberg said. “The correct communication at the appropriate time.”
Loretta Jenkins of Fort Macleod agreed.
“We just think someone should tell us you’re going to flood us,” Jenkins said.
Lazarus said there is a defined protocol for communication, with the responsibility falling on local authorities such as the MD of Willow Creek.
Sandberg, who is a councillor with the MD of Willow Creek, said the municipality ran into unforeseen circumstances last year when flooding knocked out power in Calgary.
“(Willow Creek MD) had a plan in 2013 but they say the systems failed because Platinum and Telus went down in Calgary,” Sandberg said. “All their available means of phoning people and contacting them went out.”
Sandberg said Willow Creek council has to address that issue.
Tom Neufeld of a government flood recovery task force said a mobile app has been developed to provide people with up-to-date information.
The app, which is to be released this month, will provide real time data, advisories and warnings.