Laura Neels picks up her young son from the water that’s creeping up their property, just steps from their home.
“All water,” he says, pointing to the lake that has overtaken their lawn in the past few days. Caution tape lines one corner of their lawn, and Neels has had to be careful not to let her son out of her sight, due to the deep, growing pools of water.
It’s a similar story at all the farms that sit at the base of Mt. Woodside in Agassiz, especially those that have Mountain Slough running through them. There is water everywhere — in yards and gardens and farm fields alike. Crops are likely ruined, and even where ground is not underwater, it’s a soppy, soupy mess. Taking heavy machinery into a fields so wet would be an act of futility.
This all started last week, when the main pump at the Hammersley pump station broke down. That was either Friday night or Saturday morning, said Mick Thiessen, District of Kent’s director of engineering. The pump is in repairs and the district is investigating as to why the pump failed.
“Our public works crews did a great job, coming together to make this happen,” he said, and when the district found out about the breakdown, they put their backup plan in place right away.
But in the meantime, three emergency pumps are working non-stop to drain Mountain Slough, which backed up almost immediately after the pump broke down. A local farmer brought in a fourth pump, as well, in an effort to help the district clear the water out, and dry out the farms.
Mountain Slough is usually sitting at about 11 feet this time of year, said Andy Bodnar, as he sat wondering what to do with his fields. A large portion of his silage crops looked more like a rice paddy, sitting in several inches of water on Tuesday. A gauge nearby showed the water level at 12.2 metres, slightly higher than the Hammersley pump.
In addition to the pump breakdown, a combination of warm days last week and rainy days this week led to higher river levels. Thiessen said Wednesday that they feel they’ve got the situation “stabilized” and that the mild weather forecast would help keep river levels steady.
He figured it would take until about Friday (today) to have the pump working properly again.
In the meantime, the Neels and Bodnar farms are just two that will remain largely underwater, and unusable.
The Neels had just planted raspberries three weeks ago, as part of their plan to start a u-pick operation. Half of that part of their farm was drowned by the overflowing Mountain Slough.
The Neels have lived at Bodnar Road for 17 years, and they’ve never seen the slough come up so high.
“And it’s still coming up,” she said Tuesday. They also sell potted perennials, which they’ve been moving around their property as the water continued to rise.
Like many local farmers, Kent Councillor Duane Post was at the pump station on Tuesday to lend a hand. His land, just north of the pump station, was largely underwater as well. He said the breakdown could help the district get funding for upgrades in the future.
The Hammersley pump station is slated for upgrades, and some funding has already been obtained. A third flood box and control gate will be added this year, at a cost of $330,000. Much of that funding came from a grant from the provincial and federal governments.
But the replacement of the actual pump house would cost several million dollars, Post said.
Thiessen agreed that this sort of breakdown proves the need for upgrades, and helps district staff build proposals for grant money from senior government funding in the future.
The cost of extra staff and the emergency pumps will be taken out of the reserve funds, which are in place for such situations.
Despite the heavy amount of water in the Mountain Slough area, as of Wednesday no homes were in danger of flooding. The district’s emergency coordinator, Roger Poulton, assessed the situation and found no emergency.
“This is very temporary,” Thiessen said. He expected the water to recede within a few days. “We’re expecting the repaired pump to be in place by end of this week, start it up and get things back to normal.”