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 ENVIRON M E N T

By Michelle Bryan

SURVIVING T

he Alberta floods of June 2013 will go down in history for the extensive damage and chaos created by a record-breaking rainfall. Many people were caught off guard and could never have dreamed of the nightmare they were about to experience. Populated residential areas were hit the hardest with people being rescued in homemade boats, combines, pay loaders and even manure spreader trucks. When the water level was over the wheat and oats, ranchers had to scramble to save what they could from their homes and barns and get their cattle to safety Wade and Jaimie Nelson and Wade’s parents at Highwood Valley Ranch are one of the many families operating along the Highwood River that will long remember what it was like when the water started to rise the morning of June 20. Wade remembers the cattle were agitated, almost as if they could foresee the flash flood coming. The family tried to get the cattle to higher ground but by then the water was flooding in too fast. “When the water really started to rise, the cattle seemed to know to get to high ground and to just stand,” says Wade. When the water reached their bellies he remembers the cattle became unexpectedly calm. Once the family was able to cut some

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fence the cattle calmly started swimming behind them until they reached higher ground. Wade says he’d never seen anything like it in his life before, and is thankful they never lost any animals. At one point three bulls and seven horses were cornered between a fence and the quickly rising water. Wade and his uncle waded through the rising water, caught two of the horses and rode them out bareback. Miraculously the bulls and remaining horses followed them back upstream to safer ground. Amid the chaos of looking after the cattle the Nelsons along with a number of friends and neighbours spent their time hauling and stacking straw bales to create emergency berms to try and protect their homes. “Without the support from the neighbours, things could have been a lot worse,” says Wade. A YouTube video shot by the family shows the depth of the flooding along with some footage of Wade hauling straw bales through the water to his parents’ house. It can be found on the Nelsons’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HighwoodValleyRanch. Their fourth-generation ranch lies southwest of High River. The family has a strong connection to their land, especially the area along the river. The riparian area

PHOTO: LR HELICOPTERS

THE FLOOD along the river is protected by a conservation easement to ensure it remains undeveloped in perpetuity. Future owners will have to follow the management practices called for in the land trust holding the easement. The family markets hormone- and antibiotic-free beef from their Red and Black Angus herd directly to consumers from the ranch and at a number of local farmers’ markets. Downstream from the Highwood Valley Ranch, Bob Fraser lives along the Little Bow River. Most of the year the Little Bow is a shallow, gentle creek, but this June it was transformed into a raging river that flooded some of the primary pastures for Fraser’s 300 range cows and 1,200 yearlings. “The water just came so fast it was hard to prepare for it,” recalls Fraser whose house, barn and corrals are set less than 100 yards back from the Little Bow. Members of nearby Cayley Colony quickly raced over to help Fraser get his two tractors, trucks and stock trailers out of the yard. They used a front-end loader to get whatever belongings they could grab out of his house that was already inundated with three feet of water. Before he even started to clear the yard

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