Skip to content

RM of Griffin struggling to recover from flooding

Three months after a heavy spring runoff led to widespread flooding in the Weyburn and southeast area, the Rural Municipality of Griffin is still in the process of recovering, but the good news is, the waters seem to be receding in some of the areas
Faith McDonald stands waist-deep in water in her horse pasture where she and Todd Sprecken farm in the RM of Griffin on May 23. Today she does not need to wear the chest waders any more, but water still covers their pasture, and she does not think they will get this land back before the end of this year. Some of the water is flowing, but it may take months yet for all the water to be gone from this land. Sprecken also has 4,000 acres of land for grain farming, but was unable to get out to seed any of it due to the wet spring.

Three months after a heavy spring runoff led to widespread flooding in the Weyburn and southeast area, the Rural Municipality of Griffin is still in the process of recovering, but the good news is, the waters seem to be receding in some of the areas that were hard-hit.

"We still have situations where roads are still under water," said RM administrator Audrey Trombley. "The water is starting to drop substantially, providing we get no more large rainfalls. The heat has certainly helped."

She noted a recent storm came through that dropped only a tenth of an inch at Griffin, but up towards Creelman they received three inches, which is only worsening the flood situation up in that part of the RM.

"We've restored main farm access back to all the land owners, save one farm family, Colen and Janice Bakken; theirs is still under water. We have several other farm families in the last few weeks had water recede enough that we could build through it or restore their main access road," said Reeve Stacey Lund.

He said one of the largest concerns for the RM is the northeast corner, in the Creelman area, where there is a large volume of water sitting, as "it has no natural drainage."

The RM had the road damages assessed by the Provincial Disaster Assistance Program (PDAP), and so far the damages were set at $1.7 million; the RM will receive this amount towards their road infrastructure, minus their deductible, which will be about $130,000, based on the RM's population.

Griffin had over 70 locations where water has or is going over the road, said Trombley, and these were main grid roads in the RM, not counting farm or field access roads. Griffin was under a state of emergency for seven weeks after the flooding, with the state finally lifted around July 20, she said.

Reeve Lund said the RM's main focus from now until freezeup is restoring and rebuilding their road infrastructure; plus their original goal of building seven miles of new grid roads will be reduced down to between zero and two miles.

The situation for Colen and Janice Bakken hasn't changed at all since the height of the flooding, as they still cannot access their farm on a grid road, but have to drive in and out on an abandoned rail bed.

"I haven't had a road to our farm since May 11," said Janice, noting when it rains the ruts on the rail bed get two feet deep, and she reached the point where she bought a house in the city so she can continue going to work; her husband Colen, meantime, is still on the farm as they have a herd of some 40 cattle to feed and take care of. As for the grain side of their operation, they weren't able to seed anything as they've had no access to their yard where their equipment is stored, and they can't even deliver any of the grain they have in their bins.

"We have a semi loaded with canola that has been sitting there for a couple months, but we can't get it out," she said.

The RM cut the rail bed in a couple places to try and alleviate the water levels, but so far the water is still in place and is flowing but doesn't seem to really be going down at all, said Janice.

The couple hopes that over the winter when everything freezes up, the RM might be able to build up the road so come spring they can have an access to their farm. "We can't go on like this forever. This started way back in March when we started to have water in our basement," said Janice.

"We don't know what our losses are going to be," she added. "We could sell off the cattle, but we can't get a truck anywhere near there."

For another RM couple, Faith McDonald and Todd Sprecken, the waters are starting to recede but they will be months yet before their lands are free of excess moisture.

Faith noted the flooding there began long before the storm of June 17. "From May 7 until about June 22, the water went up 20 inches in our yard. We're not even in a natural water run. We had sandbagged our stable early in May and purchased some aquadams" to protect bins and a machine shop.

Today, her pasture land is still under water, although she can see that the levels are dropping slowly ever since the RM cut a road on June 24 and June 28, and water is still flowing through.

"We have made great progress from what it was, but I don't know if I'll have access to the pasture this year at all," said Faith, adding on a positive note, "With additional rains, it hasn't gone back up; it still flows through."

At one point, the flooding in the pasture was so bad, Faith had to wear chest waders and had waters at least chest-high; now at least she doesn't have to put on the chest waders anymore to go through the water.

She noted one elderly neighbour had water too deep to drive through with her car for a couple of months, while some neighbours to the north were driving through water, but had to be put up in alternate quarters for a week or two when the water was simply too deep to drive through. The elderly neighbour was able to get in with the help of her son, in his truck.

For his part, Todd normally farms 4,000 acres on the farm, but this year, "we never turned a wheel for seeding. There are quite a few around who weren't able to get any seeding done."

Currently the big job for him is to spray to keep control of weeds, in particular dockweed and foxtail.

Asked if the couple will apply for disaster assistance, Faith said they likely will, but as there are still flood waters around, they won't know the full extent of the damages until later on in the year.

"There's a lot of cleanup to do, and in a lot of places, wood and garbage has floated in and needs to be cleaned up," she said, adding they have a mature yard with older trees that sat in water for a long time. She's hoping they won't die from the excess moisture as it's difficult to get trees to grow out in the country, and they are a rare but welcome asset to have.

Also looking ahead to the fall, and to next year, the couple is hoping most of the water can be gone before the winter, because any snowfall received over winter will only be added to it in the spring runoff.

While the situation is starting to improve in the RM overall, there is still one family who cannot return to their property because of the water levels, and it may yet be a few months before they will be able to access their property.

The burgeoning oil industry in the Griffin area has also been hard-hit, but is starting to send drilling crews out to drill new wells now that some of their lands are finally drying up enough to allow them on.

"At one point, there was over 300 oil wells shut in from high water levels," said Trombley. Asked how many are still shut in right now, she said it's impossible to say as the number changes day-to-day as the waters recede.

"Drilling is slowly starting to resume their activity. We've got a few rigs working, and oil development is slowly beginning to pick up again," said the administrator, noting in a normal year there might be 70 to 80 wells being drilled over the summer.

Reeve Lund said some service rigs have been able to get in to work on some wells that had been shut in, but up in the northeast part of the RM, some of those wells may be under water for years to come.

"Hopefully next year the focus in the RM will be on putting in a crop instead of fighting with the water," said the reeve, adding some of this will depend on how much moisture comes this fall and over the winter.