May is the month when Grand Forks residents watch the Granby and Kettle rivers for signs of flooding.
This year, local snowpacks were 119% of normal May 1, above the provincial average of 106% but well below the levels that triggered extensive flooding in 2018.
Recent cool temperatures mean the snow pack remains stable but the potential for flooding exists if there is a sharp rise in temperature and or heavy rainfall.
“You don’t have to drive up very high before you see snow,” says area rancher John Mehmal.
To help prevent a repeat of the 200-year flood levels that occurred two years ago, the city of Grand Forks is coordinating a buy-out program for residents of the Ruckle Addition area. The floods in 2018 breached dikes built after the 1948 floods.
“We have friends down in Ruckle who have had an offer on their house,” says Mehmal.
But farmers hit hard in 2018 haven’t seen any help.
“We lost fencing along the river and had to rehabilitate fields that were damaged,” he says. “We had someone from the provincial disaster relief program come out and look at the damage, and we have contacted them a couple of times since, but we haven’t heard a thing.”
Fred Elsaesser of nearby Advance Nurseries Co. Ltd. was hit harder, losing access to 50 of the 350 acres near the Kettle River where it grows hardy deciduous trees shipped across North America. The flood carved a new channel for the river through his land, burying trees in three feet of silt and washing the rest downstream to the US.
The volume of sales pushed him over the threshold for government compensation, and he says his small family farm is being treated like it was a corporation.
With any luck, he hopes to recover some of the money he’s lost. Discussions with administrators of the disaster financial assistance program over the past 18 months have yet to bear fruit, however.