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Red Deer River levels monitored frequently

Range of variables impact potential for flood conditions
MVT stock Kevin Heerema
Kevin Heerema, Sundre's director of emergency management as well as the municipality's community peace officer, said he is no more or less concerned about potential flood conditions than any other year. The snow pack melted later than average this year, and daily efforts to monitor the Red Deer River and Bearberry Creek's levels and flows remain ongoing. File photo/MVP Staff

SUNDRE — The municipality’s director of emergency management continues to maintain a close eye on water levels, and said a range of variables play a role in setting the stage for potential flood conditions.

“Any given year, we could see a flood when certain conditions aren’t existent in the mountains, and other times when they are existent,” said Kevin Heerema, who is also Sundre’s community peace officer.  

“It’s really hard to say, flood season wise. There are so many factors that play into whether or not we see flood conditions,” said Heerema.

As of early in June, the snow pack out west remained fairly high for this time of year, he said.

“But it is dropping. We’re just a few days away compared to normal.”

However, he added the ground also remains fairly saturated.

“There’s definitely concern there. If we were to see, say heavy melting or heavy rains, that kind of thing, the ground can’t absorb as much as it would normally.”

Even so, Heerema said there was not yet immediate cause for alarm.

“It’s not that I’m more concerned now than normal and I’m not any less concerned than normal,” he said.

Since January, Heerema said he has been monitoring the snow pack as well as river levels. The frequency of checks increases as spring gets closer, and by the time May rolls around, he is keeping an eye on updated information as many as five or six times a day.

“Right up until the snow pack’s all gone, and even during heavy rain events throughout the summer, we’re watching it still.”

Facilitating the effort is constant monitoring from Alberta River Forecasting, a division under the provincial government that feeds the data to Alberta River Basins, which makes the information readily accessible online to officials as well as the public. Monitoring stations installed throughout the province gauge water flows, levels, snow packs as well as precipitation along major waterways, he said.

Understanding how to interpret the information is important, as a graph might look disconcerting in one area without necessarily posing a potential threat somewhere else. For example, both the Red Deer River and the Bearberry Creek are affected by different mountain ranges, he said.  

Yet despite the relatively heavy accumulation of snow that fell throughout this past winter, Heerema said the situation is fairly close to normal.

“We’re within the average levels right now. We’re just a little bit late in getting there.”

Whereas the snow pack is generally largely melted away by mid-May, the accumulation was this year still melting by the end of last month and even coming in June, he said.

“We’re about a week or two late with where we normally are at this time of year.”

Asked whether there are any forecasts or expectations, Heerema said, “Just like every year, it really just depends on Mother Nature, and what she does.”

Although the snow pack was a little later melting than usual, the risk level is no different than it has been year-to-year, and largely hinges on any periods of extended precipitation in the coming weeks, he said.

But emergency plans are in place, and he said alerts will promptly be issued should the situation change.

“We’re ready to respond.”