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Willow Creek MD provides letter of support for Oldman Dam Downstream Stakeholders Guild

MD of Willow Creek council will send a letter of support for a group trying to mitigate the effects of flooding when water is released by the Oldman Dam.
Thane Hurlburt and Mike Hart of the Oldman Dam Downstream Stakeholders Guild, or O-DAM, appeared as a delegation at council’s April 8 meeting to discuss their purpose, principles and what they are trying to accomplish.
Hurlburt said O-DAM is based in Fort Macleod and was formed in 2013 after the high water and flooding occurring that June.
Members believe much of the damage had to do with how water was released from the Oldman Dam, and that matters can improve with better communication.
O-DAM takes in the area along the Oldman River to its confluence with the Belly River, and has started to take in Willow Creek right up to Chain Lakes.
Its objectives are:
• To speak with one voice on behalf of its members.
• To collaborate with provincial government ministries on the policies and procedures governing operation and management of the dam with special attention to flood control.
• To collaborate with ministries on the development and implementation of a comprehensive communication system before and during times of high flow from the dam.
• To encourage collaboration and sharing between all agencies and groups providing emergency services in the vicinity of the Oldman River to help mitigate damage from flooding caused by increased flows from the dam.
In the past two years, O-DAM has become a legal society in Alberta; has established a relationship with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and other governmental organizations; has improved communication procedures with the province and municipal districts in case of high-water events; has attended meetings and symposiums to widen its scope of reference; and has created the Web site www.o-dam.ca.
Hurlburt said there have been changes in the government’s protocol.
Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has said it is the responsibility of the municipality to remove debris, gravel bars, and other impediments that create choke points.
Hurlburt said the group’s intention is to push the province on this because they will try and download this responsibility.
O-DAM is also interested in exploring how they can work together to better manage the flow of the river through municipalities.
Hurlburt concluded they were not looking for money, but a letter of support in principle.
Hurlburt had also said O-DAM was requesting a live camera on top of the dam that could provide updates of water levels in real time or close to it.
Coun. Ian Sundquist asked why that request has been refused.
Hurlburt responded it has to do with issues of privacy.
MD of Wilow Creek chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti explained what the municipality has done since the flooding of 2013.
In 2013, the municipality had two Internet providers, Telus and Platinum, that both went down within minutes of each other. The municipal district also lost cell phone coverage.
By 2014, the municipality had a third, independent Internet provider developed in-house.
To keep ratepayers informed there were regular updates on Facebook and Twitter. They received about 64,000 hits, while the office received fewer than 10 phone calls.
The municipality also purchased an off-site emergency phone land line that will not be affected by a local emergency such as flooding.
Vizzutti noted 40 to 45 per cent of ratepayers no longer have a phone land line.
That, along with the lack of human resources, eliminates the possibility of the municipality phoning ratepayers in emergencies.
Reeve Neil Wilson added the MD of Willow Creek has started a flood mapping pilot project starting with the Fort Macleod area.
“The members of O-DAM applaud what the MD has done,” Hurlburt said.
Hurlburt added that Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has to get information out in a timely manner.
Hart lives along Willow Creek and said the concerns of ratepayers in that area are the same as those of O-DAM. He has a list of 44 potential members along the creek.
A number of people live close to Willow Creek and they have experienced five one in 100-year floods.
Hart noted Environment and Sustainable Resource Development has been quiet about changes they are making to the spillway (by Chain Lakes).
“Silence is not a good thing,” Hart said.
There are physical blocks in Willow Creek hampering flow.
“The creek is a wreck, the banks are a wreck,” Hart said, and a plan needs to be put in place to clean it up.
Also, the creek’s flow has increased substantially.
“It has become a river,” Hart said. “It’s a misnomer to call it a creek.”
Later in the meeting, council agreed to send a letter of support in principle to O-DAM.

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