River scraping begins in High River to mitigate flooding

The province has started the process of scraping the Highwood River in High River to try to prevent future flooding in the southern Alberta town that was ravaged by floodwaters last month.

High River area hard hit in flood also built on swamp, locals told at town hall meeting

The province announced Thursday afternoon that it will be scraping part of the Highwood River in High River to help mitigate flooding. The work should be completed by Sept. 15. (Faiz Jamil/CBC)

The province has started the process of scraping the Highwood River in High River to try to prevent future flooding in the southern Alberta town that was ravaged by floodwaters last month.

Work has already begun on clearing excess gravel, sediment and debris to increase the river's flow.

Rick Fraser, the associate minister of regional recovery in the area, made the announcement in High River Thursday afternoon.

"There is urgent work to be done in waterbodies to deal with flood-related damages and to help prevent future flooding," he said in a release.

"While we work to rebuild High River in the wake of this devastating flood, we must also do everything we can to help protect the community from future disaster."

He says scraping is occuring within the town limits and is being carefully controlled to limit any impacts on surrounding land and vegetation.

"Clearing the river of gravel bars and other obstacles is a very important first step in flood mitigation for the Town of High River, and it will significantly help to protect the downtown community," said High River Mayor Emile Blokland in a release.

Blokland said other mitigation efforts, such as berms and water diversion, will be implemented.

Work is expected to be finished by Sept. 15 and could result in the removal of 64,000 cubic metres of rock from six locations on the river — enough to fill 26 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Once removed, the rock will be stored locally for future flood mitigation measures.

Hard hit area built on swamp, local says

New questions are also being raised about whether one of the communities that flooded in High River should ever have been built.

Residents who attended a town hall meeting in High River Wednesday night heard that some of the most heavily flooded areas used to be swampland. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

About 200 people who attended a town hall meeting on Wednesday were reminded by longtime residents that Hampton Hills, one of the worst-hit areas, used to be a wetland.  

"Those were swamps where I took my children to collect frogs," said Mary Campbell.

Wendy Badduke, who moved to the area less than two years ago, said she wishes she had known.

"And of course, really, the older people would know about that," she said.

John Badduke, her husband, was less surprised — saying developers will build anywhere they can. 

"Real estate guy brought in seven feet of fill and started building."

Earlier this week, it was revealed that a government engineer told residents of Hampton Hills that their homes were allowed to flood as part of a larger strategy to drain water from the rest of the town.

The Alberta government denied that was the case.

While Wendy Badduke said she still believes Hampton Hills was sacrificed to save the rest of High River, she said its swampy history does explain why her home sat under sewage for more than three weeks.

"The water had nowhere to go," she said.