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Groundwater study to investigate potential solutions to east Exshaw flooding

“We owe it to the community to see if we can actually find a solution and we don’t have enough information right now to know if one is even possible. I think this is a good due diligence piece of work and hopefully it will give us a solution or it will tell us one is not possible. At least we tried.”

EXSHAW – A long-awaited groundwater study will move forward to give residents of east Exshaw affected by high groundwater in the region a potential solution to constant flooding.

The MD of Bighorn council approved the study and a third-party review to be completed for slightly more than $200,000.

Matric Solutions Inc. will complete the bulk of the work for roughly $180,000 and Morrison Hershfield will provide the third-party consulting for just under $23,000.

The goal of the project will provide a better understanding of the causes of high groundwater flooding, the influence of storms, snowpacks, creeks and the Bow River in the area, but particularly for east Exshaw residents.

“We owe it to the community to see if we can actually find a solution and we don’t have enough information right now to know if one is even possible,” Coun. Paul Ryan said. “I think this is a good due diligence piece of work and hopefully it will give us a solution or it will tell us one is not possible. At least we tried.”

Coun. Paul Clarke echoed Ryan’s thoughts on moving forward to gain better clarity and potentially find an answer to the flooding headaches in east Exshaw.

“I’d like to see the study done only to try and find out how to close this whole concern with the groundwater and can we do anything about it, is it possible, is there risk involved to do any further work on their own properties and start utilizing their basements again?” he said.

Only Coun. Erik Butters in opposed moving ahead with the study, due to the cost and no guarantee a workable solution will be discovered.

“I think based on a study such as this, it’ll be fascinating. I’ll love to see the information and find it very interesting, but in terms of what we’re doing for east Exshaw – which is where we started – I think it does nothing for east Exshaw. … We’d be far better off helping the people raise their houses and not have a basement,” he said. “The only way you’re not going to have a flooded basement is if you don’t have a basement.”

Council unanimously passed the hiring of a third-party reviewer and to make all documents public, with the exception of proprietary information.

The original recommendation was to keep the information confidential, but prior concerns on engineering studies and the inability of elected officials to ask questions on the report led to them being made public.

“I think the public is entitled to know what we’re spending it on,” Ryan said after bringing forward the motion.

“Given that it’s public money and the amount of public concern about the issue, I think it would be important if it was made available.”

A technical memo earlier this year from McElhanney Engineering summarized the physical hydrogeological assessment report from late 2020.

The report was to give an improved understanding of flooding in east Exshaw, but McElhanney abandoned the project, and a third-party review by BGC Engineering of the debris-flood mitigation by Golder Associates for Jura Creek raised issues.

The independent review had concerns with the proposed design by Golder and council was unable to ask questions of the third-party review.

MD of Bighorn staff previously prepared a terms of reference for the review and analysis of the McElhanney recommendations in April.

Flood mitigation in the region was brought to the forefront following the 2013 flood, which saw Exshaw and Jura creeks have runoff water mixed with debris after significant rainfall.

The purpose of the project was to find ways to reduce the amount of flooding in east Exshaw and the third-party review concluded flooding was likely to increase.

Council and staff held a lengthy one hour and 45 minute in-camera session to discuss the contract and proposals.

The original estimated cost was $166,000, but an increase of $16,000 was needed to update the surface water and groundwater instrumentations. However, a geophysical study for $15,000 was part of the budget and may or may not be needed. A staff report to council stated if it was not needed, it would scale the project back to $167,000.

Among the work to be completed is data collection, preparation of an integrated surface water and groundwater model. A report and presentation will then be made to council.

The staff report estimated the data compilation will take about eight months, including the 2022 spring freshet.

The study was neither part of the 2021 capital budget or the five-year capital plan, necessitating council approval for the costly study.

Bighorn CAO Rob Ellis noted a thorough review of six proposals had been completed and when finished, the study will bring forward potential solutions based on modelling done for the surface and groundwater.

“They will provide solutions as part of the study, what they find from their exercise of collecting the data, modelling the data and investigating what solutions may be appropriate for groundwater in east Exshaw,” he said.