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Province to help, Weyburn drenched by flood

The federal and provincial governments are going to help municipalities like the City of Weyburn with the "millions and millions of dollars" it is costing them to deal with the flood that plunged the city into a state of emergency late Friday, along

The federal and provincial governments are going to help municipalities like the City of Weyburn with the "millions and millions of dollars" it is costing them to deal with the flood that plunged the city into a state of emergency late Friday, along with a precautionary drinking water advisory that will be in place for the foreseeable future.

This was the promise from Premier Brad Wall after he came on Monday to tour the disaster areas in Weyburn, Estevan, Radville and Yellow Grass to observe the effects flooding had on communities. Heavy rain began late Thursday evening and continued all day Friday, dropping about 100 millimetres or four inches of rain, causing the Souris River to rise and flood many areas of the city throughout the weekend. Coupled with the flooding, late Friday an electrical failure at the city's waste water treatment plant then led to the drinking water advisory, under which residents are urged to boil water before drinking it or using in cooking.

Noting the city's infrastructure "has been taxed to the limit," the city declared a state of emergency, said Mayor Debra Button. "City crews are working to keep the system functioning, but we are asking all city residents to help us deal with this emergency situation."

She went on to explain in regard to the water advisory, it was issued "because of the remote possibility that sump pumps were engaged in homes that experienced sewer backups earlier in the day, and moved grey or black water into the storm drains and, ultimately, the river. Since the city draws its water supply from the Souris River, there is a slight chance that water in the area of our intake has been contaminated."

Over the weekend, as the river continued rising, dikes were built on both sides of the river and Highway 39 where it intersects with Government Road (Highway 35), plus numerous vacuum trucks and pumper trucks were engaged from the oil industry to help pump water out of flooded areas, an effort that continued day and night throughout the weekend into this week. In addition, the residents of Navou Park had to be evacuated due to the high flood waters, and Mayor Button warned on Sunday other evacuations may be necessary.

To accommodate some of those evacuees, the City and the Canadian Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at Crescent Point Place, where 10 to 15 people spent the night on Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday that number expanded to around 30, with a bed provided and food provided by Myrna McFadden out of her kitchen in the rink's concession area.

"This is a tough situation for all of us, but I've been very proud and impressed with how everyone in our city has pulled together as a team. We put out a Facebook call for volunteers today (Sunday) and in no time we had 200 people lined up," said Mayor Button, noting these volunteers then went on to sandbag the Wal-Mart store in the rain, and to distribute our information package to all households.

On Monday, the city hosted a visit by Premier Wall and MLA Dustin Duncan, and the premier held a private meeting with Mayor Button in which she asked for relief to help with the emergency measures office, and also put forward a plea on behalf of the Family Place, which has been forced to close its doors due to sewage contamination over the weekend.

"People from the province have taken over the command centre at the Fire Hall, so we basically handed over the operation to them. It gives us a break; our core group has been going day and night from Friday to Saturday to Sunday. That was the request we made through (MLA) Dustin Duncan to the premier," said Mayor Button late Monday evening.

Following a tour of the lift station and some of the flooded areas of the city, the premier held a press conference in front of City Hall to explain what the province will do to help.

"First and foremost the response from the people in southeast Saskatchewan and all these communities has been remarkable. In the case of Weyburn, we have a mayor who has been (on call) 24-7 for three or four days, and has been monitoring important stations to ensure there is sewer and water for a city this size," Premier Wall told reporters.

"We have volunteer firefighters in this community and across the region, and volunteers from all across southeast Saskatchewan doing a remarkable job in an unprecedented situation in terms of the water that was already here, and the massive rainfall that had happened in a short matter of time."

"We can celebrate a couple of things, one that by and large that people are well, they are tired, but they are safe and well," said Wall. "What we are trying to do here is ensure that continues and that people are protected, and where possible that their property is protected."

Some of the things that the province has done is improved the Provincial Disaster Response Program that is offered with the federal government. They have also improved the province's disaster response program.

Communities will spend a lot of dollars to recover from the flooding damage, and to keep their water infrastructure operational through the disaster. "It is in the millions of dollars, and there is two levels of cost. There is one for the municipalities, that already had a lot of stressed infrastructure because of so much rain, and we told them to do what they need to do."

"We are lucky to have a balanced budget in this province and a rainy day fund," explained Wall. He stressed it was important to help the municipalities.

One of the major expenses for the city, besides hiring all the vacuum trucks and pumper trucks that have been at work all over the city non-stop since Friday night, is fixing the lift station so it can be operational again with treating the city's water.

To give an idea how much volume is being moved by all of those trucks, an operator told a reporter his vacuum truck had a capacity of 10 cubic metres, and he moved the water at a rate of one cubic metre per minute, or 60 cubic metres of liquid every hour.

Mayor Button indicated that on Monday, the four large main pumps from the lift station were on their way to Saskatoon to be fixed, and replacement pumps were on their way in from Edmonton, arriving late Tuesday, along with some borrowed pumps in use. She was happy that the city finally had a whole day without rain on Monday, to enable them to make some headway against the flood.

Asked if the city knows how long the drinking water advisory needs to be in place, Mayor Button said as of late Monday city officials don't know how long the process will take to get their system back up and running without contamination.

The precautionary drinking water advisory is used when it isn't known if there is microbial or chemical contamination, and there has been a malfunction in the water treatment plant. If tests show that there are confirmed threats to public health, this will then be upgraded to an emergency boil-water order by Public Health. The precautionary drinking water advisory is issued by Environment, and still requires residents to boil their water for at least two minutes before using it for drinking or cooking.

This water can be used for bathing or showering for older children and adults, and for laundering clothes, but should not be used for brushing of teeth, unless it has been boiled for at least one minute. It can be used to wash dishes if it has been boiled, or if the dishes has been sanitized in a bleach water solution.

"There are things that we need to do soon in this region, and one of those is to have responsible relief of the water pressures," said Wall. "We need to identify what divergences can be done now."

The premier mentioned that that was something he planned to bring up to the meeting with the western premiers that he will be attending, so they can work together with the federal government on some of the projects that are needed for the relief of those water pressures in the province.

All ministries across the provincial government have been focusing on the southeast area, and their flooding issues. This includes Transportation, Crown corporations, Environment, Agriculture, Energy and Resources, and infrastructure needs.

"In this province, we are going to make sure that our neighbours are safe, and that is what people have been doing," said Wall. "Then we are going to protect property, keep lights and the water on, and look at every option we have for diversion through the waterways."

"This is the biggest challenge we've had to deal with in years, but I'm proud of the way our team handled preparations for this, and how they're handling its arrival. In the meantime, I'd like to call on all residents of the city to assist us by reducing their demands on our infrastructure where possible," said Mayor Button.

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