I attended a meeting last evening, June 16th 2014, convened by the RDEK for the residents affected by the flooding at Elizabeth Lake. Our RDEK neighbours to the south of city limits have claimed expensive damage to their small holding properties with the rising water table caused by the high water. Water is currently almost a metre above the level of the weir. More potential damage is anticipated to cement foundations and septic fields. Some residents in town are now also seeing the effects on their properties of the high water table caused by the back up of water in Elizabeth Lake. All evidence, according to many long time residents, for the cause of this high water level points to culverts under Wattsville Road that have not been maintained for several years.
As many know, the City was attempting to mitigate some of the problems by pumping water out of the lake, over the road and back into its natural path of flow, in Smith Creek. When emergency funding for this process ran out, the pumping ceased. On Monday June 9th the City attempted to unplug the system under Wattsville Road. With the sudden flow of water into properties downstream, the culverts were, within a short period of time, artificially blocked with gravel.
Questions from those affected, included at last evening’s meeting were:
Why, when the City has been notified and several occasions in the last few years have the culverts not been monitored more closely and regularly cleaned out?
Why were the Wattsville culverts not properly cleaned out this spring when the City was first alerted that a major problem was developing?
Why, when they were cleaned out on Monday June 9th, were no control methods to steadily restrict flow if necessary, put in place at the culvert location?
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure confirmed it had not received notification that an attempt was to be made to clean out the culverts prior to action being taken. Why was action taken before confirmation of any notification?
Downstream residents were not notified. Why not?
Why were no sandbags or monitoring procedures in place downstream in case of a fast rise in water?
Where is the agreement between the City and Ducks Unlimited that spells out how the outflow culverts from Elizabeth Lake need to be maintained?
I must give credit to Mayor Stetski and those Councillors Warner and Whetham, who have recently taken a sincere interest in this issue and who have stated they will do their utmost to work through their CAO with the appropriate departments. However, it would seem this bottleneck of water, communication and facts is a fine example of where governance and bureaucracy goes wrong. Most want to do the right thing, are afraid to do the wrong thing and as a result nothing gets done.
As a resident of Cranbrook I am not directly affected financially by this situation at this time. However, the costs and they could be substantial, for some property owners will be borne by taxpayers.
I have been asked by a member of Council why I have so much interest. I don't believe I am alone in my interest but this was my response as a City resident and someone whose property is not directly affected.
Firstly I have been exceedingly disappointed to hear that some city staff would feel threatened by interest in our city park, a unique area that has been loved and used for years by residents, especially those on this south side of Cranbrook.
Over a period of forty two years, I have regularly and frequently walked and sat in this park and since before it was enhanced to the degree that it has been today. My visits are probably less now than in a ‘normal’ year and my focus slightly changed but I take as much interest in this area as my own backyard for, in many ways, it is an extension of my own backyard.
In spring I wait for the Ribes odoratum, the only fragrant currant I know in the whole area, to come into bloom. With its pale yellow flowers and fragrance that drifts as far as the visitor centre it has been a destination for many plant lovers in the area who wish to see it or collect a seed berry or for those who wonder where that fragrance is coming from. It is now under water and in all likelihood will not recover. Like all the trees and shrubs under water, its roots will have been starved of oxygen for too long to survive. It was unique to the area and I will miss it.
In spring I have looked forward to accompanying my or one of the many classes on their educational field trips to the dock where a muskrat might be seen and turtles can be observed going about their daily routines. The pond dipping activities that take place in the safety of this dock have not been possible this year as the dock is flooded and inaccessible. The bridge over the creek is under water and probably dangerous to anyone trying to use it. The turtles nesting area is under water and with the difficulties they are facing one must wonder how this situation will affect them. I wonder what repairs will be necessary to the dock and bridge, if indeed they can be repaired after being submerged so long.
In spring and fall I look forward to spending time in the bird blinds looking for the Red Winged Black Birds first arrival and the many migratory birds that pass though this staging area twice a year. The bird blinds are in water and the wooden blind will probably need repair and stabilisation after being in water for so long. I wonder how those amenities will be repaired and who will do the work and pay the cost. In the Fall of 2012, I watched as Ducks Unlimited installed a new weir at the same time as the Tundra Swans and Snow Geese were passing through. We all enjoyed the spectacle. The new weir is now submerged and unable to do its work.
The paths I use regularly, year round for my walks are under water and the work of all those volunteers who have spent countless hours constructing them, gone. Wood chips have floated away and the log edgings are doing the same. Restored native planting has been under water so long it will have partially evolved into lake bottom and will take time to fully recover. I am concerned about how restoration will be paid for.
In summer I look forward to being in this place within walking distance of my home, where I know it is possible to cool off as a cool breeze drifts down off the lake. With less accessibility to the park and a probable rise in mosquito populations, it likely will not be such a popular destination this summer.
In winter I value the stability of wood chip paths for walking, the red rosehips that linger, the stunning views of the mountains and the rime and hoar frost on grasses that is a photographers’ delight.
The value of having this safe, public and almost natural area so close to our homes cannot be measured for it is invaluable and that is why I care and that is why I take the interest I do.
Elizabeth Lake and the public area attached to it, is my/our park. If the flooding was a natural problem, an ‘act of God’, I would take just as much interest. Call me ‘an armchair quarterback’ if you like but in my opinion, it is not. If a naturally rising water table, as I have heard being blamed, is partly the cause, the water table would be causing similar problems on the north side of Wattsville, as the south. It is not yet, at this time, to my knowledge. I believe this to be a man made problem that has been obvious from the beginning, that had and has, a man made solution albeit a much more complicated solution now. I have watched and waited for man to deal with it.
I am fully aware these issues are typically dealt with by City Departments and that Council alone is not responsible but I am disappointed and quite dismayed with the ongoing situation. It is my hope that the governance of this town will have the assurance from the departments responsible for this area that the situation will be remedied very soon in a controlled and successful manner, before the water table caused by the high lake level, does seep into town and even more damage occurs.