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Bighorn applies to disaster recovery program following groundwater flooding

The MD of Bighorn has applied to the provincial Disaster Recovery Program in the hopes of helping residents recover some uninsurable costs and damages caused by the groundwater flooding this spring

BIGHORN – Weeks after groundwater flooding started in east Exshaw, the MD of Bighorn has applied to the province's Disaster Recovery Program (DRP).

Hoping to recover the costs of the uninsurable damages due to the groundwater flooding that hit residents by surprise the first week of June, officials said they are hopeful cabinet approves the application to alleviate some of the financial burden Exshaw residents are facing.

"If cabinet approves the DRP application, the MD of Bighorn and affected residents will be able to apply to recover the cost of uninsurable damages and costs incurred," MD officials wrote in a statement. "Residents need to contact their insurance companies to determine which damages were insurable and which were uninsurable.  

"If the DRP application is approved, residents will apply to the DRP directly ­– not through the MD of Bighorn."

Earlier this year, homes and properties in the hamlet along Highway 1A unexpectedly flooded with high groundwater levels. Dozens of residents pumped out thousands of litres of water from their basements during the first week of June. Some residents had up to 50 centimetres of water in their homes.

“People are burning out at a high rate and a lot have taken time off work to do it ... I have heard that people are tired and need to go to work," Coun. Paul Ryan noted during the virtual June council meeting.

While the cause is still being investigated, the MD has applied for the DRP and is still awaiting approval through the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

Residents are asked to have an estimate of uninsurable damages and to email a description of damages and cost to the director of flood recovery, Doug Fulford.

The MD has also requested provincial emergency social services to provide a liaison person to assist residents with the DRP application process if the MD application is approved.

So far, 19 homes have been investigated for structural damages as a result of the high groundwater, according to an update from officials.

"An engineer from Alberta Emergency Management Agency was in Exshaw on June 18 and 19 to assess the foundations of the homes on McGillivary and Pigeon ... Further assessments may occur if the DRP for east Exshaw is accepted by the Province," officials wrote.

A boil water alert also remains in effect for Exshaw.

"Because the M.D. continues to sporadically release wastewater from the Exshaw lagoon into the Bow River, we are continuing to recommend private well users follow the cautionary procedures of a water boil advisory, or to undertake a microbiological test of your water well before consumption," read the latest update.

In a previous update, MD officials said approval was obtained from Alberta Environment and Parks to pump wastewater from the lift station into the culvert under the Highway 1A and ultimately to the Bow River.

"We are also discharging from the wastewater lagoon to the Bow River. Although the wastewater that we are pumping is diluted with large volumes of groundwater, we are recommending that residents on a private well boil their water prior to consumption," officials wrote.

A contracted hydrogeologist, independent of the engineers behind the Exshaw Creek design and mitigation work, has been tasked with helping the MD understand what is causing the unusually high groundwater levels in east Exshaw.

The key questions being investigated include:

• What is causing the unusually high groundwater levels in east Exshaw?

• Is the Exshaw Creek flood mitigation structure a cause of the high groundwater levels in east Exshaw?

• What could be done to mitigate the groundwater problem in east Exshaw?

• What would be the estimated cost of this mitigation?

The report is expected later this month.


Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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