Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Thaw and Flooding

A few days ago, I told you that there was a creek running through my parents farmyard. I've seen many spring floods over the years that I lived on the farm. It would often come in stages.

The first stage was as the snow and ice on the creek would melt. The creek would slowly start to rise, depending on how much snow we had that winter, or the average high and low temperatures or how much sunlight we were receiving. This could last a few days or a couple of weeks.

The water generally would start to go down just in time to rise again in the second stage, as the snow from the Pembina Hills started melting and flowing downstream.

The third and usually final stage would occur as the larger tributaries such as the Boyne River and the Assinaboine River would overflow their banks. The cumulative affect could be felt many miles away in the smaller tributaries like the one on our property. Overall the flood effects could last a few weeks every spring.

I can remember several years that the water was actually lapping on top of the bottom step at the front door! Our home was never actually flooded as it is built a bit higher than ground level, although we almost always had a few inches of water seepage into the basement. Many items were kept on cement blocks year round to prevent damage. The one major exception was the regulation size pool table that only went on blocks as the snow started to melt. The sump pump would run almost constantly some springs.

Some years, the water would only go a few feet over its banks, but there were many years that our entire yard would be covered in muddy water. Many years, the water would actually cover the lane. There was a bit of a high spot in the center of the yard, and a couple of other areas. so vehicles and implements would be moved to higher points. I recall several years that my dad would drive us kids out the lane to meet the school bus in the front end loader of the tractor. There were also years that we could use a small motor boat on low lying parts of the property. We even took a boat a few times to meet the bus or to the mailbox which was about a 1/4 mile down the road from the end of our lane. We also have old black and white photos from when my dad was a kid with a row boat tied to the back steps of the house!

One of my most vivid memories of those spring floods happened when I was only about 8 or 10. The water had been coming up slowly. My sister and older brother were already living out on their own and I don't recall where my other brother was. It was Saturday and as usual, mom, dad and I had gone to town in late afternoon to do shopping and visit neighbours and friends. Going to town on Saturday was a farming community tradition. The stores were open late and everyone would visit and catch up on all the news.

It was late and well after dark when we drove home. The water was over the lane as we drove in. The main yard and the sidewalk to the house were covered in several inches of icy cold water. We hadn't put our boots in the trunk before we left as the water had been rising quite slowly. How were we going to get from the car to the house? Well, there really wasn't much choice. Mom and I took off our socks and shoes and grabbed what packages we could carry and started walking through the freezing water to the front steps. We screamed as we walked in the dark to the nearby house. Dad yelled at us to pipe down - it wasn't that bad and we'd be dry in a few minutes. He'd bring everything else in from the car. It was only about 30 feet or so but it felt like a mile. We made it and grabbed some towels to dry our numb feet.

A few seconds later we heard this booming yelp from dad and he screamed "DAMN THAT WATER IS COLD!!! Mom and I laughed and told him to quit complaining! He never did admit whether he yelled to make mom and I feel better or because it really was that bad! Personally, I think it was a combination of both factors.

The waters haven't risen like that in many years. They probably won't rise a lot this spring either as the creek has been very shallow for the last few years. The lowest lying areas of the yard still get covered most springs and there will still be seepage in the basement, but the sump pump can handle that. The furnace and the hot water heater are in the basement, but they are on raised pads and there is no longer anything else of value in the basement.

My dad always joked that he was like a rich Texan. Instead of taking the family to the lake, he'd bring the lake to us every spring!!

Frankly, I'd have preferred going to the lake.


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