Monday, June 24, 2013

Water is Life

Calgary pre-flood

Craig and I have lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for the past 17 years.  We have been transitioning to our farm north of the city near the town of Rocky Mountain House when we are not on Alberta Crewed but we still have our home in Calgary.

Calgary is a vibrant and dynamic city, known among many things as the economic and development center of Canada’s oil industry and world famous Stampede Rodeo.  The median age of its citizens is 35 years, 25% are new Canadians, and over 50% have a post-secondary education.  With a growing population of over one million people, it is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  With long, cold, and dark winters we tend to obsess about the weather but it doesn’t stop us from spending lots of time outside.  We carry the blemishes of a large city but tend to be a hardy lot that plows through economic and climate challenges with gusto. 

Last Thursday, we were stopped in our tracks by a massive storm that hit the city and surrounding area stretching over 100 km, dumping up to 340 mm (14 inches) of rain in 16 hours over rivers and creeks already high from mountain snow run-off.  The city’s river valley became a lake, interspersed with gushing torrents filled with the debris of whole houses washed off of their foundations, trees, and vehicles.   A flash-flood scenario resulted in the immediate evacuation of 100,000 people from the valleys.  Last night, Craig and I walked along the bluff near our house (thankfully we live up high along that bluff) and watched the power of the river as it carved new channels.  The downtown core, normally the work centre for close to 350,000 people, was pitch black and eerily quiet.  The odd beeping of a truck backing up echoed through the valley as it scraped up the mud of the receding water.

Many residents didn’t have time to get out and were rescued by emergency personnel.   Entire towns along the rivers surrounding the city were submerged.  The internet and social media sites are filled with stories and images but this one is a stunning summary:

Today, the clean up began.  My sister is a detective with the Calgary Police Service and spent her day in the neighbourhood shown in the first part of this video.  Her job was to go door to door to make sure people were safe as they returned to their homes.  She was humbled by the responses she heard as she made her way through mud and debris.  People called out their thanks and shook her hand.  In turn, Colleen watched as thousands of people showed up with shovels, generators, food, and supplies to help their neighbours clean up.  She stopped for a drink at Starbucks where she was told to put her money away.  As a first responder, she wasn’t allowed to pay.

The stories of devastation unfold and envelop our psyches as the dominoes continue to fall.   Little things like the packed street of parked cars in front of our house remind us of how valley residents scrambled to high ground and abandoned their vehicles until they could regroup.  Our local convenience store clerk described the scene last Thursday of hundreds of people converging on his tiny store, buying up all food and water supplies in a frenzy, anticipating a shortage (which didn’t happen).

I am impressed by how quickly people were evacuated and now how thousands converge to support their communities.  We are not smart about where we build and ask, “How did this happen?”  as we stand on crumbling decks built to get that water view. 

In my last teaching position, our grades one and two students took up the human relationship with water in a year-long investigation.  Our statement of intent asked, “Wat-er we doing? Water is life.” and we studied the narratives, science, and history of our relationship with water.  I remember when the children realized how our planet’s water is interconnected, and therefore how we are linked by and through water as one student stood up and declared, “I am the Ganges River!”.  The river does run through us.

As this new yet old narrative of the river unfolds, I wonder again, “Wat-er we doing?”

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