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Exshaw residents worried groundwater flooding could get worse

“They dug the creek down four metres to do this creek mitigation. They didn’t line it. They didn’t armour the bed. They didn’t do anything. Now it is like a channel that is carving down there.”

MD OF BIGHORN – Brian Thompson has lived in the Exshaw area since 1987, during which time he has seen plenty of flooding.

What makes current flooding different, according to Thompson, is where it is coming from in the past few years.

“I would normally look across from the pond and I would see the water level there and I have been doing that for 35 years,” he said. “It was starting to come up and I got down to the sump pump. I went down and I had water. Not only that, it came up rapidly. In all my years here, I had never seen anything like it.”

Typically, Thompson says, once the culvert starts to cover with water, there are a few days to a few weeks’ worth of warning before the flooding hits basements. This year, the culvert was clear, but water was already rising in basements.

“People were putting culverts into the ground in their yards so they could pump away the water that was coming out of the ground,” Thompson said. “The river had not even come up yet. The river did not come up until June 1. By May 29, we were absolutely underwater.”

Thompson said the reason for the increased groundwater flooding comes from the mitigation efforts on the creek that came about following the historic 2013 flood.

“They dug the creek down four metres to do this creek mitigation,” Thompson said. “They didn’t line it. They didn’t armour the bed. They didn’t do anything. Now it is like a channel that is carving down there.”

Thompson identified 11 holes in the creek where the water was disappearing out of sight into the ground. He adds in 2021, there was nearly no water in basements despite the river being higher than it was this year. This year, the flooding could have been worse but local residents stepped in he says.

“The water came up just as fast and then it came to a point and stopped,” Thompson said. “I walked up the creek and some of our friends in the community had built up embankments in the holes in the east bank of the creek to keep the creek from running into holes.”

Thompson previously ran the community gym and in 2005, after several weeks of heavy rain, he had two small pumps and a large pump removing the water. This year, the gym had four large pumps running full time.

“They have four pumps and if they shut them off, the water goes up immediately.”

When in 2013, surface water flooded the area when the creek broke its banks, Thompson moved his furnace, laundry and hot water heater upstairs and stopped using the basement.

“We would have Christmas down there. Water was a minor inconvenience,” Thompson said. “In 2020, I had a well built above the floor. I had two pumps in the well to catch the water that was pouring straight out of it. In 2021, I concreted the well and the water still comes out of it.”

The MD of Bighorn is waiting on a groundwater study from Matric Solutions Inc and Morrison Hershfield. The goal of the project is to better understand the causes of high groundwater flooding, the influence of storms, snowpacks, creeks and the Bow River area. The study is expected to be released in late 2022.

“I really hope there is going to be some mitigation measures that Matric is going to be able to look at what is causing these groundwater issues,” Reeve Lisa Rosvold said. “My sincere hope is that there is going to be some solutions provided.”

The MD is looking at mitigation work that can be conducted, including installing pipes that residents can connect their hoses to for pumping out water.

“Our council is quite empathetic with everything that has happened there, and the trauma residents have endured over the last number of years with groundwater,” Rosvold said.

One issue for the area, according to Rosvold, comes from the fact that before development the area was known as Exshaw Lake. One such case was on July 22, 1918, when the Calgary Herald mentioned road crews blasting rock through the area of Exshaw Lake.

“I think once the homes started to be built, they built on that land and brought in a lot of fill,” Rosvold said. “I think historically, there was a lot of water in that area.”

For Thompson, he is expecting little in the way of solutions to come from the study.

“I am expecting Band-Aids because no one wants to do anything,” he said. “They need to line that creek. It is a huge expense, but they should have done that first.”

Thompson said unless Matric speaks with residents and is shown areas of concern, little will come in the way of solutions.

“We are looking at another whitewash job,” Thompson said. “I am hoping not but I have a feeling that is what the thing is.”

As for the pipes, Thompson said many residents use them but the issue is the water shouldn’t be there in the first place.

“We are getting fed water that traditionally wasn’t coming here,” Thompson said. “After they dug the creek, they opened channels into the faults in the ground and it is channelling right down there.”

Nothing has yet been set aside for any recommendations from the study, but the MD does have reserve funds to handle mitigation projects.

“There is the hope that the province would set up to help,” Rosvold said.

As for Thompson, he says he and local residents will do the one thing they feel they can do.

“Just keep pumping,” he said. “They tell us it’s the river level. What has changed? The only thing that has changed is they mitigated the creek issue and we are getting fed a rate of water exponentially higher than we used to get.”