Monthly Archives: June 2011
Prolonged flooding in Sindh area of Pakistan has resulted in an unexpected phenomenon.
Spiders escaped the flood water by climbing into trees and spinning gigantic webs.
Another unexpected consequence is, despite the amount of standing water, the mosquito population is low. It is believed the webs in the trees are capturing the biters. This is the silver lining in the situation since fewer mosquitos mean fewer cases of malaria in an area already devastated.
Both Estevan and Weyburn in southeastern Saskatchewan remain in a Local State of Emergency, but the sun is shining and a warm breeze blows over the prairies today, both helping to dry up the local areas. These pictures show what Weyburn looked like a week ago.
In Weyburn the berms built right downtown to dike the flooding Souris River have been removed, streets are water-free and Highway 39 is open again. Weyburnians remain in a state of emergency, declared June 17, because their drinking water is still not safe; the precautionary boil water advisory is still in effect. Their water treatment plant had failed due to flooding but three of the four pumps are now up and running at the lift station and normal conditions prevail. A few more rounds of testing are needed to determine if the water is safe to drink again. Evacuated trailer court residents have been allowed to return home.
Estevan, too, remains on high alert although one of the threats to them is subsiding. Both the Boundary and Rafferty Dams outlet flows have been decreased, good news since there was concern both dams were in jeopardy of breaching due to huge volumes behind them. This aerial view of Estevan Golf Course shows it is one big water trap.
Estevan is housing evacuees from the area, especially around Roche Percee. The Reception Centre at the Civic Auditorium continues to accept registrations for local flood evacuees. The contact number has changed to 634-1915. The Souris Valley Aquatic and Leisure Centre is open to the public.
Travellers in the region are strongly encouraged to contact the Highway Hotline before setting out. As of today:
- Highway 39 East is open with the exception of overloaded vehicles
- Highway 47 North continues to be down to one lane
- Highway 39 West has water flowing over for 2 km west of Macoun with the Department of Highways assisting traffic – PLEASE SLOW DOWN
- Highway 18 West and Highway 47 South remain closed. These two highways are extremely dangerous at this time due to the washout below the asphalt surface
- Rafferty Dam Road continues to be used for local traffic only
With cooperation from the weather – there appears to be little rain forecast for the next five days – Saskatchewan will have a chance to dry out. People are starting to feel some cautious optimism.
Regular, intercity travelers along the Trans Canada Highway between Brandon and Winnipeg will be familiar with the halfway trees, trees that local lore says mark the midpoint between the two cities.
The halfway tree on the north side of the highway is about 14 kms west of Portage la Prairie, right next to the road and protected by a steel guard rail.
This tree is a 40-foot common willow and is the last survivor of a willow planting next to a drainage swale. Twinning the TCH caused the other willows to be removed but this, the largest one, was spared. This tree is a Manitoba Heritage Tree and is listed prominently in Heritage Trees of Manitoba, a publication of the Manitoba Forestry Association.
The other halfway tree, situated about 23 kms west of Portage on the south side of the TCH, is a gigantic, old cottonwood. This is the tree most recognized as halfway despite lacking heritage status. I have often seen the lower reaches of this tree decorated with an occasional Christmas ornament, ribbons, shoes and assorted stuff. It has been the scene of various life-changing events over its 100 year history including at least one marriage proposal.
So we have two trees nine kms apart that both claim to be halfway between Winnipeg and Brandon. Fact is, neither tree is exactly halfway but, by actual miles, the cottonwood is closer to claiming that title than the willow. I suspect building the Portage bypass and twinning the TCH changed the mileage between the two cities, thus neither tree is pivotal. The cottonwood certainly merits heritage status and the Manitoba Forestry Association is taking nominations now to update the protected tree list. See their website for details on the process.
This moody photograph of the cottonwood at night was taken by Brandon photographer and videographer Derek Gunnlaugson. Thanks, Derek. Check out his website, Dex.
How To Measure the Height of a Tree
Have someone stand next to the tree. (It doesn’t have to be a person but should be something of a specific height.) Holding a ruler vertically, walk backwards from the tree until the person is one inch tall on the ruler. Note where the top of the tree is on the ruler. Take that number and multiple it by the height of the person (or object) next to tree and you have the tree’s height. Easy!
There has been little change in the status of Spruce Woods Provincial Park since my last update. Most of the park’s amenities remain closed and inaccessible due to flooding, including Spirit Sands and Punchbowl, Ispuitinaw Trail, Marsh Lake, the lower area of Kiche Manitou Campground, concession stand and canoe campground.
The upper campground and yurts at Kiche Manitou Campground are open and accessible with the parks call centre taking reservations. Access to these campground sites is only via Hwy #2 from the south, but not the Trans Canada Highway. This map shows the detour. By the way, for the third year in a row, there is no entry fee to visit Manitoba’s provincial parks. They are free! Great deal! Camping fees still apply.
There’s not much to do this year at Spruce Woods but a few of the trails are open or partially open. Using Carberry and TCH access from the north, Epinette Creek is partially open, that is to cabin #2 and Juniper Loop but the trail is closed at start of Tamarack Loop. Arriving from the south, the Hogs Back Trail is open, Spring Ridge Trail is partially open with some flooded sections. This trail has been expanded. Warning signs are posted. The Trans Canada Trail east of upper campground is open, equestrian trails are open with some sections flooded and the main equestrian campground is open.
The prognosis for the park reopening is not good. Ominously, the Souris River joins the Assiniboine just upstream from Spruce Woods and, with the volume of water rolling down the Souris today, it is conceivable Highway #5 through the park will remain closed for the summer, and, depending on the extent of damage, possibly for the year. Though the bridge is still holding, there is massive wash-out of the highway on either side.
As one who hikes Spirit Sands at least a dozen times every summer, I’m having hiker withdrawal this year not being able to walk the land. Linda’s beautiful photographs of the sands in this post will have to do for now. The Assiniboine has probably inundated the low-lying Punchbowl but the sands themselves are at a much higher elevation and escape flooding. I’m imagining how pristine and pure the untrodden dunes must be, how delicately the rivulets of water have drawn their paths down the sloping trails and how the log ladders are buried from disuse.
June 20, 2011
“Enticed back, fulfilling an unspoken responsibility.”
I wrote about Castle Butte in a post called Local Knowledge. Castle Butte, a quarter of a mile around and over 200 feet high, is a huge, ever-eroding sandstone monolith that stands like a sentinel over the vast distance of the Big Muddy Valley in southern Saskatchewan, a prominent landmark for millennia. Many times, I’ve stood next to Castle Butte and gazed down the miles-wide valley, its stratified walls burnished by afternoon sun. Since the valley has filled up over the past 8,000 years, I imagine it five times deeper, engorged with torrents of cold glacial runaway meltwater, carving a new language in a system of channels across the land, its syllables the unstoppable will of gravity driving fresh water toward a warm and welcoming sea. The same water chiseled Castle Butte’s precious shape.
This picture shows the butte holding a cloud.
This year, like last, I visited Castle Butte with my friend and spiritual ally Chris. Just like the returnees I write about in Local Knowledge, we were drawn back. Our detour due to flooding allowed the chance to visit the butte. We were eager to return and happy the gravel road through the valley was easily passable. My experience with Chris defies the reports in Local knowledge since we were alone both times we stopped there. This year, the butte’s sparse greenery is lush from the rains, as you can see in my pictures. When it rains heavy, the butte looks like a fountain.
These four pictures show the streams of erosion on one small face of the butte.
This picture shows one of several pinnacles that Castle Butte sports.
A hoodoo, sculpted by the elements, at Castle Butte.
This is the view across the Big Muddy Valley from Castle Butte.
Castle Butte stands as mute witness to its wild, watery genesis but a full participant in its saga of erosion and change. The wind and water still etch their calligraphy into its soft, willing sandstone, the people still return and all the while, Spirit aids and abets our needs. Majestic and mysterious, Castle Butte waits.
“Time to start building an ark,” said the elderly man ahead of me at the Hort’s this morning. Surveying the current situation, he may be right.
Deluges of rain in the Souris River watershed over the weekend have already raised the river to dangerously high levels in Saskatchewan, where flash flooding has occurred, and North Dakota where the city of Minot has evacuated about 14,000 people. Twenty-six Saskatchewan communities have declared states of emergency due to flooding. That water now heads into Manitoba. Its first hot spot is the town of Melita, already heavily diked against the flow. These pictures I took on Tuesday show Melita’s current water levels.
Dikes around Melita will be bolstered against the new higher flows. Downstream the communities of Wawanesa and Souris are bracing for the new onslaught expected over the next three weeks. Existing dikes in Wawanesa will need come up eight feet to protect the town! The Souris River drains into the Assiniboine which will continue to be heavily diverted north into Lake Manitoba, exacerbating the flood problems around its shore. In the past couple of days, more evacuations have occurred around the lake in the RM of Siglunes, town of Alonsa and Lake Manitoba First Nations. Watch a short video of flooding at Lake Manitoba Narrows. At this time, 2,649 Manitobans are evacuated from their homes. These pictures show more of the devastation at Twin Lakes Beach.
The excessive rainfall has saturated the prairies. Total rainfall between April 1 to June 21 at many locations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba is approaching annual totals. For example, Weyburn, SK has received 82% of annual normal precipitation (342 mm), Melita 51 per cent (516 mm), Souris 65 per cent (518 mm) and Brandon 61 per cent (472 mm). It’s a sunny, muggy day in Manitoba today and similar in southeast Saskatchewan. However, more rain is ahead for the Souris River basin this weekend.
There are currently 31 states of local emergency (SoLE) and five prevention orders. Since the Manitoba Emergency Co-ordination Centre opened in early April for spring flooding, there have been 67 SoLEs and 31 prevention orders declared across the province by local authorities.
I took these next three pictures on Tuesday. My friend Chris surveys inundated Riverside Park, where the Souris River crosses Hwy #10 south of Brandon. The Souris River flows toward an old bridge next to the park then the view downstream.
The prairies remain vigilant for sudden flooding and unexpected rainfall amounts.
I am working on an update about Spruce Woods Provincial Park for posting over the next two days. Keep your powder dry.
After receiving over 120 mm (about 5 inches) of rain in two days, Weyburn, SK is under a state of emergency due to flooding downtown, failure of their water treatment plant and continuing heavy rains.
City water has been declared undrinkable and dangerous with a boiling directive in place. I stayed in Weyburn at the Canalta Inn and Suites on Sunday night, arriving late afternoon about the same time as a thunderstorm with heavy rains began. It rained most of the night as over two dozen pumps and fire trucks tried to move water from the south side of Hwy #39 to the north side so it can drain into the Souris River. Emergency vehicles sped past my room all night. The flood arrived quickly and thoroughly in Weyburn. Most downtown businesses were closed with Boston Pizza being one of the few exceptions. Bottled water was scarce, even Wal-Mart ran out. The look of concern on the face of the front desk clerk at the hotel spoke volumes about the local worry. They weren’t renting rooms on the first floor that night “just in case.”
Down the road in Estevan, SK things are getting worse. I stayed in Estevan at The Derrick on Monday night. A small lake formed behind the hotel and inched slowly toward the building while it rained all night. A trailer park has been completely evacuated, homes have been lost, both dams that face into the city are under the duress of unequalled amounts of water and it continues to rain. Boundary Dam holds back the water of Long Creek and is Sask Power’s largest thermal generating station and the largest lignite coal-burning station in Canada. The Rafferty Dam holds back the Souris River forming the gigantic Rafferty Reservoir which stretches northwest for 57 kms. Both dams are at their max as far as volume of water in their reservoirs. To relieve some of the pressure on the dams, record amounts of water are being released from both dams. This water becomes the Souris River. Estevanians fear that if either dam breaches, the city is in big trouble real quick. Highway #47 south of Estevan is closed due to flooding as is Highway #18 west of Estevan.
Meanwhile, just downstream from Estevan and the dam outlets is the little village of Roche Percee, situated on the banks of the engorged Souris River. 180 people have been evacuated and at least half the homes in the low-lying portion of the village are believed to be almost completely underwater.
“It’s just numbing. It’s out of our control,” said Coalfields RM administrator Valerie Pelton. “It’s not a slow scar or a slow burn. It’s all happened so quick. We’ve got lots of families very seriously stressed. There’s a lot of numbness and people just don’t always know what to do. We’re not even sure if Roche Percee is a place people will ever be able to go home to.”
A 150-km section of the Trans-Canada Highway is closed in Saskatchewan, due to water over the highway. The closure stretches from Whitewood to Balgonie with traffic detouring via Highways 9 and 10. Local traffic can access Sintaluta and points west from Balgonie, and Wolseley and points east from Whitewood.
The Black Rod has posted an excellent analysis of the consequences of last week’s riots in Vancouver.
Last Thursday I drove a 650 km loop around Manitoba that began on the TCH, then Hwy #16 then Hwy #5 into Dauphin. The Whitemud River has subsided but there are miles and miles of fields still completely covered with its floodwaters from ten days ago. This is most evident along Hwy #16 between Woodside and Neepawa.
I returned via Hwy #68 through the Lake Manitoba Narrows. The pictures of The Narrows give you an idea of how high the water is. All along the lakeshore there are inundated homes and people still scrambling to build dikes against the rising lake.
I passed at least six different points where sandbags were piled and available to the public. This picture is in McEwen Park in Eriksdale on the east side of Lake Manitoba.
Watch a short video of the situation at The Narrows.
Compared to my visit to the sinkhole south of Dauphin a week ago, it is much deeper today. The hole covers at least three acres, the size of two Canadian football fields, and in some spots is now a hundred feet deep with more of the timothy field fallen into the pit. A large section of the field around the centre rim has already shifted down about a foot. It will end up in the chasm soon, too.
It’s difficult to indicate the scale of the hole but the open area you see in the pictures of the sunken field is a small part of the earth that shifted. In the bush around the field and at either end there is much physical turmoil suggesting the sinkhole extends as far as a quarter-mile along the Vermillion River. Along this portion, the river forms the boundary of Riding Mountain National Park. The river, swollen with Riding Mountain rainwater, has caused considerable erosion and property loss along its banks. Though the bottom of the sinkhole is dry with no evidence of river water, there could be a strong link between the moving earth phenomenon and the roiling water. So far, nothing official from a geologist.
Today was muggy and hot with thunderstorms rolling across the prairie. Tomorrow promises to be the same. As you can see from the pictures, the land is lush and green from the rain this year and the timothy continues to flourish a hundred feet below where it germinated. The aura of the site is one of inevitable change, the ever-unfinished business of the earth creating and re-creating itself moment by moment, sinkhole by sinkhole. Earth energies have been loosed and they abound amid new chaos for elemental spirits. Fascinating place! Watch a short video of the site.
A volcano in Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain is erupting in south central Chile. More amazing pictures here.
“It’s a sad situation up here,” said Dave Shott, who has been farming around Arborg for 22 years. “We have nothing. The atmosphere out here is total despair.”
The despair this farmer feels is shared by thousands of others around the province. Over 2.5 million acres of farmland are too wet to seed this year. This is a record! Many crops that were seeded are now under water. The flood has caused a slump in house, cottage, farm equipment and vehicle sales in Manitoba.
Evacuations are still occurring due to new flooding. Mandatory evacuation notices were issued to approximately 100 people in the community of Vogar in the RM of Siglunes with additional mandatory evacuations at Kernsted Beach, Mrs. Ellie’s Drive, Skinny Dip Bay, Lundar Beach and Sugar Point in the RM of Coldwell. More people were evacuated from three First Nations around Lakes Manitoba and St. Martin this week.
A bridge near Treesbank was washed out as a provincial government employee was inspecting it. The man escaped without harm after being pulled from the Assiniboine.
Last Friday, as I was driving home through Riding Mountain National Park, I noticed at least half a dozen beaver ponds along the road had been recently drained. This includes a huge pond near Beach Ridges as you enter the park from the north. I called the Park office to enquire about this and was told the water from the ponds was threatening the highway in some places so they were drained. Just what we need, more water coming down off Riding Mountain!
It has rained heavily here for two days, adding to the worry and frustration and contributing to river flows province wide. The rivers of major concern today are the Qu’ Appelle, the Souris, the Whitemud and the Assiniboine. Flood watches continue for these rivers. I’ll have more firsthand flood reports on Friday.
Several hundred angry, frustrated Manitobans gathered in front of the Manitoba Legislature early this afternoon to give the provincial government an earful. The all-ages crowd consisted of cottage owners, ranchers, permanent residents, First Nations people and farmers flooded out by Lake Manitoba. Their signs indicate their frustration level, which is as high as the water level in the lake. Due to overuse of the Portage Diversion, 900 properties around the lake are now inundated.
The provincial government stumbles along, still denying the lake flood is man-made (to quote Stan Struthers, our provincial minister of agriculture, “There’s nothing we can do about it.” Appropriately, Stan was thoroughly booed for that comment.) Next up was our minister of EMO, Steve Ashton who received the completely negative crowd reaction he has earned and so richly deserves. Ashton’s speech was mostly drowned out by shouting.
Was Our Great Leader, Moses Selinger, there? Nope. He was out at a media photo-op in Lundar, pretending to care, while The People he should be talking to came right to his doorstep. Also hiding out from The People today was our minister of water stewardship, Christine Melnick. Though there were calls for her from the crowd, no reason was given for her absence. I’m sure she had business much more pressing than dealing with the mere rabble outside.
The other hacks that lead the Conservative and Liberal parties in Manitoba spoke, with McFadyen, the Conservative ‘leader’ striding right up to the mike without waiting for an introduction. He’s a blatherer, dull, witless. The most inspiring speeches came from a cattle rancher flooded out by the Shoal Lakes and Barry Swan, the fiery young chief of Lake Manitoba First Nation, all 190 residents of which have been evacuated and are living indefinitely in Winnipeg hotels.
What I distilled from the event was there are six points and questions that the provincial government needs to address right now to assuage The People. In case the government doesn’t understand what the points and questions are (they don’t) I’ll list them:
- Admit the flood of Lake Manitoba was man-made because of too much water coming into the lake and not enough leaving (it’s not rocket science),
- Figure out a better drainage system at Fairford that will create a manageable balance in lake levels,
- Treat people equally and fairly regarding compensation.
- Why hasn’t the area around the lake been declared a provincial disaster area?
- Where is the federal government?
- When will we have access to our properties?
It’s a hot muggy day here today, thunderstorms are likely this evening. Ironically, The People had gathered just a block away from the river that is causing their havoc. The Assiniboine flows past the Legislature, filled to its banks but not threatening Winnipeg. That’s because the lakeshore residents took the hit. It’s time for the provincial government to own up and pony up for its bad judgment and mismanagement.