In recent years, the Town of Lamont has experienced two significant flooding events, which caused significant damage and left many residents fearful of future storms. As climate change continues to impact Alberta's precipitation patterns, it is critical to prepare for an increase in the severity and frequency of similar extreme weather events.
The Town of Lamont's experience showcases actions that can be taken by other rural Alberta towns to prepare for climate change. Following these two floods, many of Lamont's residents learned how to better prepare for extreme events. Residents from other rural Alberta towns can read their stories, understand their vulnerabilities, and learn how best to adapt to increased flooding risks.
A local resident's recollection
"Like many residents of Lamont, I have experienced two instances of sewer back up in my basement. Both are due to extreme rainfall in a short period of time. It is a traumatic experience that has left me feeling very stressed whenever I feel the rain coming hard and fast. I find myself looking outside, looking downstairs, wondering if this will be another heavy rain and watching with great angst until it stops."
In July 2016, the Town of Lamont experienced unprecedented levels of rain in a short period of time. The downpour started at 7 p.m. on July 9, and by 8:30 p.m., the streets were filled with water. The Town received 3 - 6 inches of rain in less than 30 minutes. The harsh downfall inundated the sewer system, and the town's lift station was quickly overwhelmed.
Over 100 homes were damaged by the flooding. The majority of damages were caused by sewer backups flooding the basements of affected residents, while only a few residences experienced overland flooding.
The Hillside and Campbell neighbourhoods were hit worst by the floodwater, as they are closest to the lift station.
Time to pay...
Although most residents had flooding insurance, some families experienced damages that their insurance would not cover. Damages from sewer backups are typically covered under most home insurance packages in Canada. However, overland flooding damages are generally not. Luckily, the Town had assistance from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) and a session was held at the local arena where around 40 families were able to apply for funding.
The Town of Lamont also received assistance and quickly began repairing culverts and walking trails, hiring vac trucks, draining water and repairing the lift station.
In April 2018, warm temperatures led to quick spring snowmelt, causing Lamont Creek to flood over into the Town and the neighbouring county. In town, the areas closest to the creek were hit hardest.
The extent of flooding caused Lamont County to declare a local state of emergency. With many roads washed out and eroded, some residents were left stranded.
How can you prepare?
Advice from a local resident
"I would recommend the installation of a sewer backup valve. The best one is installed in the main sewer line, but that can be expensive. You can also install a cheaper version yourself in the drain(s) in your basement, but this may not be as effective.
Having to deal with an insurance claim, is, in my opinion, almost as bad as the flooding incident itself. I was not prepared for the amount of work it takes to claim what is rightfully owed to you for paying premiums diligently for years. You must provide details on all your damaged items: item details, date purchased, purchase price, and replacement cost."
What can we learn?
The 2016 flood highlighted learning opportunities for the Town's infrastructure and emergency management procedures. Prior to 2016, the Town had not experienced severe flooding, and many residents were unprepared.
Given that this was the first time an event of this magnitude had occurred, communication challenges were experienced between the Town, the local RCMP, and the fire department during the flood. The development of a clear step-by-step process would be very helpful to guide action in similar emergency events. Proactive communication between the Town and residents could help to prepare residents and reduce calls for assistance.
Following the flood, the Town implemented an integrated emergency plan with Lamont County. Additionally, the Town has improved its communication processes and implemented regular advisories, and updates on the Everbridge Emergency Alert System and the Town's website and Facebook page.
As many rural communities in Alberta have not experienced significant weather-related emergency events, they also may be unprepared and lack a robust emergency response system. With the impacts of climate change on the horizon, we must ensure our communities are better prepared.
Lamont's lift station and sewer system did not have the capacity to handle the quick inflow of water from the 2016 flood. Following the flood, the Town's lift station was repaired and upgraded. However, Lamont's infrastructure still remains vulnerable to future floods, with the limited retention of the creek and stormwater system. The Town has devised a 5-year capital plan and has pursued funding from the Federal Government to address these vulnerabilities. Town officials have investigated creating retention ponds, and plan to keep the area around the creek natural to allow for increased drainage.
The Town of Lamont is making changes to bolster its infrastructure against future floods and is taking the region's climate projections into consideration. The Town aims to bring retention capacity up to 100-year flood levels. Mitigating for 1-in-100 year floods will be necessary to limit current vulnerabilities. Adjusting risk management scenarios with climate change in mind will be essential in the long term as the impacts of climate change become even more apparent.
Experts project that higher spring temperatures will result in earlier spring snow melts, and more ice jams, spring floods and rain-on-snow events. In addition, more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns are already causing 100-year floods to occur more frequently.
Sudden warm April temperatures and a very quick spring melt brought on Lamont's 2018 flood. With most of the ground still covered in ice and snow, water drainage was limited and most of the meltwater ran over the ground, flooding the Town and greater County. The 2016 flooding was caused by a heavy precipitation event, and infrastructure was ill-equipped to handle such a large volume of water in a short amount of time. These instances are indicative of a changing climate, and our region must prepare for more events like these.
Unfortunately, most communities in Alberta may be ill-prepared, with residents unaware their homes are located in flood-prone areas, municipalities dealing with aging infrastructure, and most Albertans uninsured against overland flooding events. With a changing climate, we should consider these risks, and begin to prepare for what's to come.