So much water coming from the west toward our farm south of Weyburn in southern Saskatchewan. And it’s coming so fast. A friend phones to ask about using our floating pump. We have to say no. We drive by a neighbour, busy ditching water away from where his new basement is flooded. Abandoning others feels wrong. But we have no time to stop. Or we think there is no time. In fact we have plenty. We just don’t know it yet.
Still water to the west as far as the eye can see. This is not a river overflowing its banks. Instead it is massive runoff from a record-setting snowpack, sweeping down from some slightly elevated areas in this place of little elevation. It joins with and collects through small cuts and creeks, broadening out and over until it is simply one level covering thousands of acres, until the prairie is a sea.
But it isn’t a stagnant soup. This water is moving, threatening to take out grid roads and the farms that line them.
The regional municipality to the west has taken a backhoe and made cuts in some grids. We watch water roar through one cut, pound through and around six-foot culverts that should be big enough. The cuts may save the roads, but they also make the water flow faster, toward our neighbours, toward us. There are rumblings of dissent, but no one has any experience with this.
The water has breached the dike on the west end of our land. It is flooding into the field south of our yard. So much water.
The water is moving at unprecedented speeds. Old-timers have never seen anything like it. People begin to wonder aloud if this monster is the result of years of ditching done to “make the water run.” Of course it has contributed, but there’s nowhere to lay blame. We’ve all done it. Mostly people realize that despite the ditching, in spite of everything, this is indeed bigger than our puny attempts to retain water in the dry years. This is a flood.
When do you begin to panic?
One part of my brain is embarrassed by how emotional I’ve become. I am being silly, or worse, overreacting in a community that does not overreact. The other part prompts me to bring my son’s intricate model ship upstairs to safety, unaware of the irony in that action.
This part has been watching too much water for too long. How fast will it come? When will it be essential to move animals, when will it reach the barn, the house? When do we sandbag?
I am learning something about myself. I am much better in an immediate crisis. I react and do. In contrast, this flood is a drawn-out affair, anxiety rising along with the water. The inability to predict when and how, the futility of worry as opposed to action — these things threaten to swallow me up.
We rescue calves stranded on the other side of a dugout that’s become a lake. One at a time my husband heaves a calf into the bucket of the tractor and holds it there as I drive them through three-foot deep water to the island that is our corrals. The cows wade across behind, bawling after their babies, our yellow lab swimming along and urging them through, everyone happy when the trip is complete and we’ve delivered them into the dry straw bedding pack on the other side. Too many cow/ calves for the space, but at this point we have no choice.
Two local “boys,” young brothers in their late 20s, have taken construction equipment and opened a 20-foot section of an old railway bed that holds the water on our land. It is a very tiny drain in a very large tub, but it’s something.
The water from the west has covered almost a half section south of our farmyard and crept up into our barn and corrals, but it is actually stabilizing somewhat. The water from the east is new to us this year, with even more potential to flood the yard, buildings and house. The snowpack in the trees has held it back, but the weather is warming and we need to do something.
How do you construct a berm?
Our land borders two municipalities, the water from one draining into our land in the other. Who is responsible for the water and the dike? Everyone is hedging. The reeve of the municipality that cut the roads shows up in our yard. He’s elderly, kind. He thanks my husband for keeping his cool during a phone conversation they’ve had about the situation. “Everyone else is yelling at me,” he says. My husband laughs and asks if he’s still enjoying his job. The reeve says he is, but this flood is very hard.
A neighbour calls to yell at my husband about a small 20-foot trench he’s dug with a shovel to redirect a small bit of water. I want to show this neighbour the aerial photos that illustrate the scale of this thing and ask him if my husband’s small act is of enough consequence to jeopardize 20 years of neighbourliness. My husband, the calm one, simply fills in the ditch.
The girls’ volleyball team and their parents sent emails today offering to come sandbag if necessary. The gesture means a lot. Another friend, who works in the oilpatch, brings his survey equipment to shoot levels so we might know when and where to ditch or possibly sandbag. It is a huge relief when the numbers show the house, at least, is above current levels and unlikely to be flooded if everything goes right.
I have come to appreciate the word “if.” If the weather stays cool, if our bale berm works, if the ditch running by the hay shed is big enough to drain the slough, if the water just stops rising.
The waiting has become almost normal, though my kids tell me my ears are going to become attached to my shoulders if I don’t relax. And we are enjoying the abundance of waterfowl riding the whitecaps on our new lake: thousands of geese and ducks, swans, pelicans and more cranes than I’ve seen in my 20 years living here.
Without much fuss at all, the water has stopped rising. For a time anyway. For long enough. As the weather warms during the day and the snow pack melts the levels go up, at night they go down. We breathe along with the ebb and flow, knowing the worst is over, we have not been devastated, our flood has been mild in comparison to others.
We emerge to find the world going on as usual. The NDP makes history, the Royals are wed, Osama Bin Laden killed. And we continue to wait, this time for the water to recede and the land to dry. It’s already early May and much won’t dry in time to seed. And it will take all summer to pump the south quarter over the dike and into the marsh. The half crop we had last year weighs heavy on my husband’s mind as he contemplates a repeat performance. But while we won’t make headlines, we’ve survived our flood. I’m confident we’ll survive farming in its wake.CG