For those of us living on the south side of Cranbrook, the rising waters of Elizabeth Lake have lately been a source of concern and curiosity. For some they have been costly. So in this the sixth week of high water, we ask, " Is this another symptom of climate change, blocked culverts, an anomaly that will pass or a combination of many factors?" In any case, whatever the problems, according to City administration sources, it does not appear as though the flooding will be going away quickly. All overseeing parties have been meeting, we are told, to discuss the problem and look for ways to deal with it.
In October of 2012 when climate change expert Bob Sandford came to Cranbrook he said, “We are entering a period in which water is going to do things we haven't seen it do before. Examples from elsewhere in Canada suggest changes in the global water cycle have already begun to affect the hydrology of significant parts of the country with clear implications for everyone living downstream.” We, in Cranbrook have been advised by our municipal administration that we need to be alert to the possibility of flooding this weekend especially with the predicted high rainfall. Sand for sandbagging has been made available.
Certainly this is not a common occurrence in Cranbrook and those long time residents familiar with Elizabeth Lake have never seen the area with water as high as it is today.
Over this last week we have published several interesting and relevant historical articles from the Cranbrook Courier and we would like to thank the Cranbrook Museum of Rail Travel Archives for making that information available:
Elizabeth Lake was once a marsh. Archaeological records also show it was once a popular camping and hunting location for the Ktunaxa en route south.
After Cranbrook was settled, the creeks running through the town became an annual source of problems, dividing the town and creating wet temporary marshes.
In 1929, the City began construction of almost 5,000 feet of a thirty-inch diameter pipe to carry water through the town. This project was completed a few years later and successfully mitigated many of the spring flooding issues but not all. The pipe is still in place and still working.
In 1939, the Land Board of the time granted permission to build a dam across the marsh (now Elizabeth Lake) at the south end of town in order to create an area suitable for waterfowl year round.
A new weir was recently installed by Ducks Unlimited at the same height and location as the original dam.
In 1944, the City of Cranbrook commissioned an engineer to investigate and report on underground water seepage problems, after a 1943 spring of significantly high water and flooding in the downtown area despite the concrete pipe.
In this report it stated, “The above facts seem to the writer to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the flooding of the swamp(now Elizabeth Lake) is the direct cause of the flooding of the city.” The report goes on to suggest that if the ground water rises above a certain level at the swamp due to flooding, the effects of the rising water table will spread into Cranbrook and cause flooding problems at a later date potentially up to a year later. The layering of clay deposits and gravel beds it states, are factors in the complicated flooding issues. Optional remedies in the report of that time both suggested that excess water needed to be drained through cut trenches and taken through the city either by pumping or permanent drainage though the clay layers to gravel deposits.
All these photos were taken in the last week, the second week of May 2014. They follow the course of Jim Smith Creek from Elizabeth Lake to the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel. It is interesting to note that there appear to be several bottlenecks for the water to navigate before entering the the large culvert just south of the Railway Museum parking area.
|water being pumped across Wattsville and into a continuation of Jim Smith Creek|
|entering the culvert under Highway 3/95 at the Heritage Motel location - water covering the top of the culvert|
|pump attached to storm sewer at the Heritage Motel location|
|across the highway and exiting culvert just north of the Kootenay Treehouse building shown below, top of the culvert can just be seen|
|creek flowing between CPR access road and properties on west side of highway 3/95 - follow the willow trees|
|flowing in the open until it disappears in a short culvert under the buildings at the top of the picture|
|culvert exit to the left|
|water exits culvert|
|flowing freely behind the FasGas location|
|creek approaching a culvert which takes water under the Prestige Inn property|
|entering a the culvert which takes the water underneath the Prestige property, Van Horne Park|
|exiting the Prestige culvert in the small park, Van Horne Park, adjacent to the Railway Museum|
|flowing freely through park|
|entering the sewer system built in the 1930s to take the creek through and under the city - the creek can be accessed under some buildings via manhole covers|
This letter came to us from Marelon Bjorkaes
1800 Caldwell Road
She asked that it be posted on behalf of all the residents of Caldwell Road who have read the letter and requested that we post it. The letter is a response to comments after this post on the Elizabeth Lake Flood.
I want to comment on Gerry Warner's May 21 reply to Steward Wilson's article and comments.
First of all, Mr. Warner, the Oxford Dictionary defines "flood" as "An overflow of a large amount of water beyond its normal limits, especially over what is normally dry land." http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/flood?q=flood
It's glaringly obvious that the situation around Elizabeth Lake and along the creek to the south meets that criteria. It is a huge amount of water, it has overflowed far beyond it's normal limits and it is now covering land that is normally dry. I know, I own some of that land! I have to ask what Mr. Warner's objection is to calling a flood a flood? What is the benefit and who benefits from denying the obvious?
To minimize this situation as an 'inconvenience' is callous and dismissive. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage have been sustained by property owners in downed fencing, flooded outbuildings, ruined machinery and equipment stuck in mud where it has never been muddy before, loss of stored hay, loss of grazing pasture, damage to septic tank fields and loss of lifestyle choices. Perhaps most importantly, there is the loss of peace of mind that is causing profound worry and loss of sleep among the residents affected by the flood. People within Cranbrook City limits have sustained damage as well - along Innes Ave. If Mr. Warner is unaware of these losses, damage and impacts, it is not to his credit. To date I have not been contacted by a single City employee or official.
I take exception to Mr. Warner's remark that the residents who have land that is flooded 'chose to live beside an unregulated body of water.' Mr. Warner, before I purchased the property I now own, I specifically researched whether this area is a flood plain. It is NOT. That might be because it has never been flooded here before. Every year, the level of Elizabeth Lake would rise to a certain level in the spring then drop in the summer and autumn.
It is true that on most of these properties around the lake and creek, there has been a collection of water every spring in low spots due to frozen ground and surface snow melting before the deeper ground defrosts. There is literally no place for the water to go until the deeper ground defrosts, which it always did in due time. That, by the way, is an "inconvenience." In the 14 years that I have lived here, every year until 5 years ago, the water in the low spots was gone by July and even the muddy areas were dry by August. It was possible to open up the low areas of property to allow animals to graze. I could walk around the perimeter of my property to inspect fences.
In the summer and Autumn of 2013 I attempted to reach and repair fences in the lower acre of my property and discovered I could not reach them, even with chest waders on. The water was too deep and it stayed at that level. It was at least 2 feet higher than it had ever been before. I'm ashamed to say that at that time, I did not know that a new dam had been built. I was never informed of it. Nor was I ever informed that storm drains from the new subdivisions to the east of Elizabeth Lake would be draining into the Lake.
In any event, with that much water already in the Lake basin in the Autumn, it stands to reason that any additional water from Spring melts would be forced to go somewhere!
I would like to ask Mr. Warner exactly what he is implying with the phrase "chose to live beside an unregulated body of water?" In the early 1960's in Port Alberni, properties and homes that were miles away from the Alberni Inlet were flooded by a tsunami. They certainly had not chosen to live near an unregulated body of water. Their choice did not protect them.
As for being unregulated, decades ago Ducks Unlimited was granted the right to control the level of Elizabeth Lake with the weir located at the north end of the lake, and DU says the City of Cranbrook asked for and was given permission to control the new dam.
BC is a province of coastline, mountain ranges and valleys; a large percentage of BC's population lives beside those seacoast, rivers, lakes and creeks. For that matter a large percentage of the Earth's population lives in areas that are prone to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods, landslides, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. Shall we dismiss their plight when the disaster happens? After all, they all chose to live in those vulnerable areas.
Actually, after pondering this question, I tried to think of one place on earth that has never experienced any disaster. Then I got really naughty and wondered if we should shrug off the victims of plane crashes because they chose to get on that plane? Should we dismiss the victims of car crashes because they chose to get into that car? Maybe we should imply that people who live in buildings that collapse should not have made that choice?
I would like to make the point that Elizabeth Lake is not only not a flood plain; it is not even a natural lake. It's a slough that was damned up to make a stable - STABLE - environment for the nesting of ducks, and to prevent the City from suffering floods every spring. That original dam served those purposes without flooding all adjacent property. A representative of Ducks Unlimited has stated positively that the new dam is exactly the same height and width as the old one. How is it that the water of the Lake is at never-before-seen heights? If it is not the new dam, what is holding the water back? And where is all this water coming from?
If, as is being stated by the Mayor and repeated by various officials, elected and otherwise, the flooding at Elizabeth Lake is the result of global warming, an early melt and an extra wet spring ( which no-one has provided evidence of) then why aren't other local areas affected? The ponds out near Wasa remained completely dry until the 17th and 18th of May. Interestingly, no-one from the City has mentioned the new storm drains that empty into Elizabeth Lake! Could that possibly have an impact on how much water is pouring into Elizabeth Lake- and how fast?
I will agree with Mr. Warner that there are several stages to the spring melt - and in my experience yes, the worst may yet come. It is also true that no-one has been driven from their house - yet. From Mr. Warner's comments it would be possible to assume that it is acceptable for a city counsellor to pat him or herself on the back until we are driven from our homes.
Well, get ready. 1/3 of my house is built on sona tubes. The saturated ground reaches well beyond the apparent perimeter of the water. Groundwater can push up anything that has been sunk into the ground - or drag it down into the mud. It remains to be seen if it will push up sona tubes with the weight of an addition sitting on them or if the saturated ground will pull those sona tubes down. I've heard some ominous creaking the last few days. At what point am I allowed to get good and angry at the City's demonstrated and publicly stated indifference to the plight of those of us who live down here, many of whom looked forward to a happy retirement? "Right from the beginning we were very clear that we're not willing to flood out Cranbrook residents to lower Elizabeth Lake any more than the system holds," Stetski said at council meeting. From The Cranbrook Townsman website http://www.dailytownsman.com/breaking_news/260279891.html
Should I wait until this "inconvenient" situation creates cracks in my walls? Or should I stay calm and cooperative and play nice until the addition actually is pushed up or sinks and pulls away from the rest of the house? Should I wait until there is visible damage to the roof? Or perhaps the windows will pop out - is that the point at which this situation changes from an "inconvenience" to a disaster?
Oh dear, I think I just did some 'armchair quarterbacking,' to quote Mr. Warner's term. How presumptuous of me. Just because I've lost the use of 2/3 of my property, lost the fencing on 2 acres, have seen my sundeck sink 3 inches and can figure out that my property has been devalued to a degree that can only be guessed at, any comments I or other residents so affected cannot ask questions and offer suggestions without being called arm-chair quarterbacks? I always thought we live in a country with laws about freedom of speech.
If this is merely an inconvenience why are so many people driving along Caldwell Road to have a look at the flood? Can Cranbrook residents be so bored that they are willing to drive around looking at other people's 'inconveniences?"
One last question : if this is merely an inconvenience, how is it that the City obtained funds from the Provincial Emergency Management Fund to pay for the totally inadequate pumping that has gone on at Wattsville Road? Isn't the Emergency Management Fund for emergencies? Not inconveniences, Mr. Warner, emergencies.
Mr. Warner, many of the owners of property that has been flooded or saturated, are retired or nearing retirement. To lose the value of our major asset, our property, at a time in our lives when we cannot rebuild, is traumatizing. If you don't understand these things at least please don't minimize them.
I personally believe the least you can do now is apologize to the good people whose lives have been disrupted.
1800 Caldwell Road
Gerry Warner reponded:
Gerry Warner reponded:
Hello Marelon Bjorkaes. The reason why I made some comments in The Guardian that were factually incorrect, and for which I apologize unequivocally, is that there has been precious little face-to-face discussion about the difficulties Elizabeth Lake residents have been experiencing this spring because of the unusually high water on the lake. However, I take exception to you accusing me of armchair quarterbacking you about the lake situation because until I read your letter today (June 2) I didn’t even know you existed. My remark was directed at several comments sent to me and other councillors that criticized the City for using pumps to lower the lake and a few days later condemned the City for not running the pumps! Obviously nothing will be solved by that. Meanwhile, as talk of litigation fills the air, nothing concrete is being done about the situation and the last thing that would help – and you may agree with me on this – is to turn it over to lawyers. That would be very costly for both parties and could take years. In light of this, please allow me to make a suggestion. As a councillor myself, let me try to set up a closed-door meeting between Elizabeth Lake residents being flooded and senior City staff to thrash out options to deal with the problem now and not wait for some potential legal remedy that may or may not come in the distant future. Let’s roll up our sleeves and like good neighbors do what we can to remedy a situation that’s admittedly traumatizing and disruptive to all of you at the south end of the lake. This isn’t rocket science. Together if we start to communicate face-to-face, we can solve it. Otherwise the alternative is hand it to the lawyers. That’s the last thing we need.
Councillor Gerry Warner.