Rising waters: a first-hand look at Bow Habitat Station’s flood recovery

The Bow Habitat Station is still recovering from the recent flooding. They’ve had a lot of work to do – but they would have had even more had it not been for the heroic efforts of some remarkable staff members. This is a first-person post from Bow Habitat Station’s outreach coordinator, Tamara UnRuh. 

Photo of a flooded Calgary weir

On June 19th at 4:00 pm, Harvey Passage looked like this.

Rising Waters

It seemed like any other Thursday evening at Bow Habitat Station. The sun was shining, another busy day of school programming was wrapping up in the Discovery Centre, and the Fish Hatchery was all set for an evening tour. Earlier that day, we’d heard that the river was rising quickly, so at 4:00 p.m., I headed to check on the situation at the nearby Harvie Passage. Astonished to see the waters so high, I snapped a quick shot and returned to share the photo with my coworkers. None of us could imagine how much higher the Bow River would rise in the next 12 hours.

It was shortly after 6:00 p.m. when we received the notice to evacuate the facility. As the three of us on evening shift left, there were still anglers enjoying the Trout Pond. I had no idea of the situation I would return to two days later.

Throughout the evening, I received sporadic updates from the Fisheries and Operations staff who were maintaining the facility as the waters rose. Around 8:00 p.m., our fisheries technician, Ryan Lyster and hatchery manager, John Bilas, began to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

You might think that our fish wouldn’t be affected by flood waters – but that’s not the case at all. The greatest concern

Photo of a flooded water well

Wells located throughout Pearce Estate Park were flooded by the Bow’s rising waters.

was our source of water for the hatchery, which is supplied by groundwater. Wells are found throughout Pearce Estate Park and require a significant amount of machinery to ensure the water is pumped through the water treatment system and regulated with oxygen before reaching the fish.

For now, all Ryan and John could do was wait. They prepped oxygen stones for all the tanks, ensured all the pumps were running, and settled in for what they expected to be a long night.

Staying Afloat 

Around 10:00 p.m., the first alarm came. One by one, the wells which supply fresh water to the hatchery were being flooded out. Then, to make matters worse, power to the entire building was lost – and the back-up generators, which are typically cooled by water from the wells, quickly shut down.

Without electricity, water could not be pumped through the building to provide fresh water to the fish – and the groundwater which was now seeping into the lower level of the facility through the concrete foundation could not be pumped out.

Reinforcements made their way out to the hatchery – and were promptly waylaid by a flooded parking lot. Ryan used the facility’s largest truck to pick up the new arrivals and drive them back to the building – but when rising waters caused the truck to stall, the group had to pull on their waders and return to the building the old fashioned way.

Photo of a fish stocking truck submerged in flood waters

The water levels rose too high for even the biggest vehicles to access the building.

Back on dry land, the crew set to work repairing the generators; but in the end, there was only enough cooling water to operate one.  This meant rationing electricity by turning off all unnecessary appliances – even the lights. And that’s how our staff ended up working through the night…in the dark.

Calling in the Cavalry 

Their efforts were rewarded the next morning with the arrival of more reinforcements from the local Fish & Wildlife office – including more generators and food for employees who had now been working 16 straight hours. Much-needed bottled oxygen also arrived from our partners at Welco – and just in time: the Fish Hatchery was down to its last two hours of oxygen supply.

By Friday afternoon, water was being recirculated to all the fish and oxygen levels were being maintained. Things were as stable as they could be – but there was no guarantee they would stay that way. With all our wells still offline, there was no means of pumping fresh water into the system. The decision was made to evacuate the fish from the building – but to do so was easier said than done.

…to be continued.

6 thoughts on “Rising waters: a first-hand look at Bow Habitat Station’s flood recovery

  1. Pingback: In safer waters: the conclusion of Bow Habitat Station’s blood recovery story | Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

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