Alberta Flooding – State of Emergency Demands Timely, Accurate Data

As I sit here in Vancouver reading about the flooding and the state of emergency in Alberta I can’t help but feel a desire to be out in Alberta monitoring and recording. As a field tech you never shake that rush you get from chasing high water and it sticks with you for the rest of your career. It’s stressful, it’s exciting and at times it’s scary. As people in Alberta are seeing firsthand the raw power of water is awe inspiring and fear inducing.

The current flooding in Alberta hits close to home for me.

I have many close friends all over Alberta and I lived in Calgary for number of years while going to school. I also worked at the Water Survey of Canada office there. While working for Water Survey I had the opportunity to monitor the rivers around High River and am familiar with area. I know many of the people in the Water Survey of Canada office and know that they are working tirelessly right now. There is a small army of Federal, Provincial and Municipal agencies doing all they can to manage this situation safely.

On any other day, you may have driven past these people as they go about their work having no idea what they do, but on days like today their work comes to the forefront. Right now techs are running around the province heading towards the high water as people are evacuated. The network of monitoring stations that these techs run is under attack from the high water. Gauge buildings will be washed away, orifice lines and pressure transducers ripped out, and dataloggers will go missing or be corrupted by the water.

It is now a fight to collect as much data as possible when most of their tools have been taken away from them.

Where it is safe to do so, the techs will be taking water levels from bridges, surveying water levels, marking high water marks on structures, trees and wherever they can. They will drive stakes into the ground at the water’s edge to track water level increases or deploy temporary transducers if possible. If conditions allow they will measure the river’s flow but this can be difficult and dangerous at high water. There is debris, turbulent, cold water and a lack of access and egress to and from the river to contend with. They will take pictures, pictures and more pictures. All this information will be communicated back and forth between the techs and the office. The office provides that information to the stakeholders and provides feedback and direction to field staff. Being able to quickly integrate, manage, check and disseminate that information is crucial.

The need for water resource management backed by timely accurate data is highlighted in these situations.

The combination of accurate meteorological and hydrometric data can allow for informed decision making, design, flood warnings and resource allocation in situations like this. After the fact the data needs to managed, interpreted, finalized and communicated to all stakeholders. Having the right tools in the office is just as important as having the right tools in the field.

One of my reasons for joining Aquatic Informatics is that I want to make the best tools possible for the guys in the field.

I was that guy in the boat chasing high water and I was the guy frustrated by the lack of power and flexibility in the office tools we had. I hope to bring that perspective and context to Aquatic Informatics and make AQUARIUS an invaluable tool to all the water resource professionals out there.

I want to extend my thanks for all the efforts put forth by the people in these organizations and hope that everyone gets home safely at the end of the day.

My condolences go out to all the people across Alberta impacted by the flooding. I can’t even imagine the loss some people are facing right now. People are being evacuated as homes, businesses, vehicles and even main streets are being submerged by flooding. I hope that communities and community members support one another during this time and that they come back stronger.

Photo Credit: Sue Carscallen, Calgary Alberta

23 responses to “Alberta Flooding – State of Emergency Demands Timely, Accurate Data”

  1. Boris Fashchevsky June 25, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I am an engineer-hydrologist and Ph.Dr. in hydrology. I have spent more than 40 years working and I have supervised over 100 projects in the field of hydrology, floods, water management, planning and ecological hydrology (admissible depletion and pollution of water bodies, transboundary rivers, recreation, water protection zones, etc) on territories of the former USSR, Brazil and Belarus.
    We made the great projects related with strategic planning on territory of the former USSR:
    1.Master Plans of Water Resources Management and Protection of Environment for perspective 10-15 and 20 years.
    2.Environmental justification of flow transfers from the northern slope to the southern slope of the former USSR and so on.
    I have published over 200 papers and books, including over 30 in English in international editions.

    • Jamison Romano June 27, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      Hi Boris

      Thanks for your comment.

      Would you have any links to your works you could send me? I would be interested in looking at what you have published.

    • Jaime M. Borlaza July 9, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      Hi Boris,

      I will be starting to work as Hydraulic Structure Specialist in the preparation of a river basin master plan. I would be interested if you had some write-ups on probable intervention to mitigate flooding in urban areas. The river basin is composed of include eight (8) other sub-river basins.

  2. nesamalar durai July 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Natalie besides, the timely accurate data – a state of emergency demands that it should be People First- their safety and well-being. Nesamalar Durai

    • Jamison Romano July 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      Hi Nesamalar

      I totally agree but in order to put people first emergency planners need information. They don’t have the luxury of time when making their decisions and those decisions affect people’s safety, homes and livelihoods.

      Planners work with a finite set of resources so they need to be able to use those resources efficiently and and in the right locations. Better data could mean: earlier flood forecasting and evacuation orders, deploying sandbags where they will be most effective, deploying emergency personnel and first responders where they are needed, setting up shelters in in appropriate locations, sending supplies to where they are most needed.

      Without timely accurate data these resources the decisions on how to handle these resources are made blind and that isn’t any good for anyone.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Cheers
      Jamison

  3. Partha Tanay Sinha Roy July 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Perhaps a storage structure upstream of Calgary town in Alberta is the only answer to avoid such type of floods in future .

    • Jamison Romano July 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Hi Partha

      I think overall water management system in Alberta needs to be examined. I am not sure there is one solution to the flooding that occurred. There are reservoirs, irrigation channels, control structures and natural channels throughout the province.

      I think the conditions that lead to this flood, the volumes of water experienced, the current state of development on the floodplains and the systems in place to monitor and predict conditions need to be examined. Hopefully from that a new comprehensive water management plan can be developed and implemented.

      Thanks
      Jamison

  4. Jaime Saldarriaga, Ph.D. July 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Was there a flood forecast before this flooding occurred?

    • Deepak Paudel July 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      I also want to know about flood forecast and early warning system in the catchment.

    • Monirul Mirza July 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      Calgary encountered another flooding (lesser magnitude than 2013) in 2005. It was caused by heavy rains that damaged 40,000 homes. An estimated 1500 people were evacuated. Floods in the catchments of Bow and Elbow rivers are caused by rapid snowmelt in the Rocky mountain coupled with heavy rainfall.

      It is very important to have a comprehensive forecasting and warning and disaster management system in place. I am not sure of what kind of system is there and what lessons they have learnt after the 2005 flood. I have couple of friends work in this field in Alberta. Will post more on this after the long weekend.

    • Boris Fashchevsky July 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      I think you need to develop activities (construction and insurance) to protect Alberta from flooding.

    • Deepak Paudel July 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      A comprehensive Flood Disaster Risk Management needs to adopt in reconstruction phase. Since the catchment is frequently flooding, in this situation, community based and ecosystem based flood management approach needs to be integrated in recovery and reconstruction phases and link to flood resilient development.

    • Jamison Romano July 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Hi Jaime

      At this point I only know what I have read and can’t speak first hand as to what happened on the ground in Alberta. Here is an article that discusses some of what happened.

      http://thetyee.ca/News/2013/06/26/Alberta-Flood-Disaster/

      I am sure over the coming months the incident will be reviewed in-depth and the systems, predictions, warnings, responses, etc. will be evaluated. Hopefully any gaps will be identified and corrected and the hard work done by the water monitors in Alberta will be supported by the right systems.

      Cheers
      Jamison

    • Patrick Delaney July 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Alberta does have a flood forecasting system in place, but it depends on accurate forecasts of precipitation and temperature. In this case, I have seen references where the forecast called for 150-175 mm and what actually fell was closer to 325 mm. The weather system that nestled over the lower half of Alberta came up from the states and the precipitation was likely exacerbated by the mountain range. It’s possible a more local weather radar system could have been used to gain a more accurate prediction of the rainfall amount and intensity, but its hard to say what, if any advantage could have been gained. You can’t prevent that kind of flooding, you can only get out of harm’s way, and it seems most people had ample opportunity to do that.

    • Jaime Saldarriaga, Ph.D. July 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Looks like flood forcasting procedures need to be reviewed.

    • Deepak Paudel July 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Weather forecast is also important and mountain hydrology and ecosystem needs to be addressed.

    • Jamison Romano July 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      I think 2 important points have come out of this discussion.

      1) Floodplain Development

      There is so much floodplain development that you have to deal with the infrastructure currently in place that is at risk. The flows and water levels recorded during this flood could be used to help guide mitigation work as part of the redevelopment much like Deepak said.

      2) Flood Forecasting Systems

      A comprehensive review of the circumstances, predictions, response, models, etc. against what actually happened can provide a lot of data and could be used to design more robust networks, monitoring, forecasting, etc. Events like this highlight gaps in the system. The key is to act on what was learned.

      Patrick talked about accurate weather forecasts and he is correct. Timely accurate data whether meteorological, flow, stage, temp, etc. is needed by all organizations involved in flood/flow forecasting.

    • George Livingston July 8, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      Patrick and Jamie have the right ideas.

      Hydrology and probability theories work together in the development of appropriate probability distributions to improve probabilistic flood forecasts. Data is dandy but needs to be compared to correct probability distributions.

  5. Mark Deutschman August 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Here is a real time web application based on the national weather service forecasts.

    http://www.rrbdin.org/flood-forecast-display-tool

    • Hi Mark

      Thanks for the link.

      This application is the last piece of the puzzle. It it is an interactive communication tool to provide information to the public and others outside of the organization. The data collection, correction and modelling for forecasts appear to take place at the NCRFC and then are “published” to this interactive display tool. The usefulness of this tool is based on timely accurate data.

      I like some of the tools of this application such as the flood inundation map. I think many towns, cities, locations could benefit from understanding how their areas would be affected by flooding. GIS is a powerful tool to help with that kind of mapping and display. It’s always interesting to see how different organizations approach water resource management and communication.

      Thanks again.

      Cheers
      Jamie

    • Mark Deutschman August 20, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      That is correct. It uses the hydrologic forecast from the weather service and maps it. The issue new forecasts every 6 hours. It uses their deterministic forecast (i.e., sac-sma). They export the forecast as an xml file, and the application picks it up. the topography it used to map the forecast comes from a lidar collect. We envision utilizing their ESP forecasts to extend the simulation period, but haven’t found funding to do so. That would then I’ve us probabilities….of elevations.

    • George Livingston August 20, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Mark provided a real time web application that gives useful information.

      Following books suggest improved forecasts:

      “Statistics in Civil Engineering.” Andrew V. Metcalfe

      In the preface of his book, Metcalfe points out “that engineering projects are expected to operate under a wide range of environmental conditions. These conditions include RANDOM components(variables)”. Risk is involved; For Example, “bridges have to withstand hurricanes.”

      Chapter 4, section 4.8 “Extreme Value and Related Distributions”, IMPROVING the precision of flood frequency analysis(probability distributions), Pages 103-112.

      “Extreme Value and Related Models with Applications in Engineering and Science” by Castillo, Hadi, Balakrishnan and Sarabia.

      Design of flood protection device, page 9; Flood examples on pages 162 and 170.

      State of Emergency demands both timely and accurate water data as well as the best possible forecasting and probability models for the protection of life and property.

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