18 July 2013

I participate in an historic event

For my first posting in seven months, I can hardly do better than comment on my participation in a truly historic event. I not only observed but became a fully-fledged, if highly reluctant, participant. The event I refer to is the greatest flood in Alberta's history, perhaps in Canada's history, the great flood of 2013.

I live in an apartment building beside the Elbow River, a normally gentle, sparkling stream fresh  from the mountains that once a year transforms into a roiling brown monster. This year it broke 80 years of relatively benign behaviour and went rogue, 80 years that lulled those who live along its banks, enjoying its many delights, into a complacency now deeply buried. Joined by its big brother, the Bow, it went on a rampage that drew international attention. Between them, they caused the evacuation of 75,000 Calgarians, eight per cent of the city's population.

It stormed through our building, turning everything on the ground floor, including three apartments and the furnace and utility rooms, into garbage. Fortunately my apartment is on the fourth floor and so escaped the ruination. Nonetheless, as I form these words I have been homeless for four weeks, displaced until the building is appropriately repaired and declared safe.

As the Elbow, still my favourite river despite its misbehaviour, puts its ill-tempered outburst behind it and returns to its gentle summer self, Albertans struggle to learn the lessons the flood has taught us. We must first recognize that rivers flood and the Elbow and Bow have flooded worse in the past. We have not taken them seriously enough, providing insufficient safeguards and allowing excessive building with inadequate codes to proliferate in the flood plains. This must be dealt with if damage from future floods, and there will be many, is to be significantly mitigated.

We might also keep in mind our reckless attitude toward our environment. We are Canada's pollution province, pumping more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than any other. We are the major contributor to global warming and thus to the increase in extreme weather events. It is quite possible that our mischief contributed to the flood. The price of disrespecting nature may be the most important lesson we can learn.


  1. Hi, Bill. Good to hear from you at last. Were you in your apartment during the deluge? There's something eerily awe-inspiring in a flood. It pries away our comfortable notions of control, akin to what is experienced in communities hit by tornadoes or coastal towns battered by hurricanes. It's there, before your eyes, in your face and there's nothing within our power to do about it except to find a safe place to wait it out.

    What if the floods that struck Calgary and Toronto this year are "the new normal" as some suggest? What if this is climate change's grand entrance - one upside the head?

    It's like a prize fight. It's not so much how well you can take a punch but rather how many punches you can absorb over successive rounds. How many hits will we be able to take before our society buckles at the knees?

    Here on the coast some otherwise well off types are beginning to get concerned about sea level rise. It's not that a few centimetres matters in itself. It's what that modest sea level rise translates into during high tides magnified by storm surges and rivers engorged with spring mountain runoff. When those three factors come together, seaside homes become indefensible.

    Even the Dutch with their smallish coastline and relatively dense population concentration are accepting the necessity of surrendering lands back to the sea.

    Good to have you back. Hope you can return home soon.

  2. Good to be back, Mound.

    No, I wasn't in my apartment when the big water arrived. I had taken to my heels. Awe-inspiring it certainly was.