Flooding swamps lakefront properties in Alberta Beach
'No one can tell us if homes are going to fall or not or what's going to happen'
Rising water levels in Lac Ste. Anne continued to flood waterfront properties in Alberta Beach on Thursday, threatening to overwhelm the community's sewer system and trigger evacuation orders.
A state of local emergency was declared Wednesday afternoon in the village 60 kilometres west of Edmonton.
In an alert, the Alberta Emergency Management Agency said rising water levels in Lac Ste. Anne may threaten homes and businesses in the Village of Alberta Beach, the Summer Village of Val Quentin and Sunset Point shorelines.
"Some of the shorelines have eroded so much that the shoreline is right against people's decks or houses right now," Alberta Beach Mayor Jim Benedict said in an interview Thursday with CBC News.
It's the largest flood the community has seen since 1974, he said.
The worst of the flooding is concentrated on the southwest end of the beach. Benedict said about half of the community's 100 lakefront properties are at risk.
The beach is under water and about 20 metres of parkland along the shore has been eroded, he said.
Volunteers are working to fill sandbags and place them along the shoreline to protect properties.
'They could start collapsing'
High winds whipped across the lake on Wednesday afternoon, washing out beaches, backyards and basements along the shoreline in Alberta Beach — a community of 1,000 residents that can attract up to 3,000 visitors on a busy summer weekend.
Winds have since died down but the water levels remain high, Benedict said.
If conditions deteriorate, more properties will be damaged or even destroyed, he said. Many of the small cottage-style homes closest to the water are ill-equipped to handle the damage.
He worries their foundations may begin crumbling.
"What we're worried about is the foundations on some of the older cabins. They're not on piles, they're on blocks. With the erosion, they could start collapsing and gas lines breaking so ATCO Gas is out monitoring the gas lines, our public works is out all the time.
"No one can tell us if homes are going to fall or not or what's going to happen. As long as the wind stays away, we should be OK, hopefully."
That's where the evacuation might come in, if our sewer system has to be shut down.-Jim Benedict
If the flooding continues, some residents may need to be evacuated from the community.
The high lake levels are putting a strain on the Tri-Village Regional Sewer System. If operations fail, it could create a public health emergency, Benedict said.
"The water is overflowing on our streets and running into our sewer system," he said. "Our pumps are running at capacity. Our lagoon has gone up a metre since Friday.
"If the pump can't keep up, then we'll have to haul in trucks — and if they can't keep up, then I don't know what's going to happen.
"That's where the evacuation might come in, if our sewer system has to be shut down."
Residents and volunteers worked through the night, building berms of sandbags around threatened homes.
"All we can do is continue the sandbagging," Benedict said. "We'll continue to put those out for residents and hope the wind doesn't come up and the lake levels go down."
Year-round resident and property owner Bonnie Thomson says her yard has been inundated with water since Wednesday afternoon.
She's running a sump pump around the clock to divert water from her basement.
"It was not good. We had six to eight inches of water in the front yard and the waves were hitting right up against the retaining wall."
She's worried her foundation might fail under the pressure from the encroaching water. Many of her neighbours have already noticed cracks in their foundations, she said.
She doubts that a berm of sandbags she and her husband built around their yard will withstand much more.
"The waves are crashing this high, four feet high, so I don't know how a two-foot wall of sandbags is going to stop that," she said. "If we get anymore rain, I don't know what's going to happen."
The lake level has been rising for years, eroding property along the shoreline, she said. A clogged weir, a head dam that controls drainage of the lake through the Sturgeon River, is to blame Thomson said.
Residents have pleaded with the village and provincial governments for assistance in managing the situation, she said.
"The mouth of the Sturgeon at the lake is not opened fully," she said.
"I'm not an expert but I think it could have been managed a lot better in the past four or five years. We've all tried to get something done along the lakefront and nothing has been done ... Why have they let it get to this point?"
'We all just banded together'
Benedict said people in the community are working to prevent further damage.
Around 1,200 sandbags were hefted onto trucks and placed along the shoreline on Wednesday. Another 1,200 were being sent out Thursday morning.
"A shout-out to all the volunteers that showed up yesterday to bag the sand," Benedict said. "We had about 30 people just instantly show up so that was awesome.
"It's a small community, and we just all banded together. And this morning, my phone is going off with people wanting to help."
Sandbags have been available at the Alberta Beach Public Works Building, 4000 Museum Rd. People who need help protecting their properties should go to the public works office, officials said.
With files from Travis McEwan and Carol Amadeo