Swan River flood map combines western and Indigenous knowledge

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

“A lot of local knowledge has been incorporated into this (Swan River flood risk map),” says Todd Bailey. The goal is to “incorporate traditional knowledge” with western science, such as Lidar and computer modelling.

Bailey is Swan River First Nation (SRFN)’s forestry director with the consultation department.

The traditional knowledge gathered by the researchers included interviews with Swan River First Nation elders and others. The researchers also went to the Kinosayo Museum in Kinuso to find information about historical floods.

“I just know that the hydrologist found the interviews quite informative,” Bailey adds. “They have some local context to help interpret the results coming from the model.”

Historic floods

SRFN councillor Dustin Twin is also involved in the Swan River flood risk map project.

“It’s (the Swan River) flooded so many times,” says Twin. In 2020, Lesser Slave Lake flooded parts of Swan River First Nation, but the river didn’t.

“They (the scientists) were here in the summer, while the lake was high,” says Twin. But the river was low. “It was the strangest thing.”

The last big Swan River flood was in 2018, says Twin.

A June 14, 2018 flood update in The Leader says, “Hwy. 2 by Kinuso was reopened for traffic this morning, the Swan River having dropped sufficiently…Rumours of Slave Lake being evacuated – apparently being perpetrated by Edmonton media outlets – were still going around as of Wednesday morning and were just as inaccurate as they were two days earlier when flooding was actually happening.”

An earlier article – ‘Suddenly, way too much water’ – says, “After one of the driest springs in recent memory, all hell broke loose on Monday evening, June 11.” Swan River, Marten Creek, Eating Creek and others all flooded.

Map goals

Climate change is a particular focus of the modelling, says Bailey. The goal of the flood map is as a tool to help with “adaptation planning” for current and future infrastructure.

“People are kind of keyed into these things because of climate change,” says Twin. This was the reason that Swan River was able to get the funding to do the flood map.

The Swan River flows into Lesser Slave Lake near ‘the narrows’ in the middle of the lake. The majority of Swan River First Nation buildings and roads are on the Swan River floodplain.

The Swan River is the second biggest tributary flowing into Lesser Slave Lake, says Twin.

A boat rescues someone in a ditch off Highway 2 near Kinuso in the 2018 Swan River flood.

The Swan River starts in the Swan Hills south of the Hamlet of Kinuso, which is surrounded Swan River First Nation.

Swan River First Nation is “downhill from all of the logging,” says Twin. There is also oilfield around. Along with the risk map, Swan River First Nation is consulting on the proposed 20-year logging plan by local companies and working with oilfield companies to remediate crossings that make it difficult for Arctic grayling to spawn.

Western science

The flood map is still in progress, but the lidar scanning and interviews are finished.

Lidar is done with a laser camera under an airplane, says Bailey.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration U.S. Department of Commerce website says, “Lidar, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system — generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary compares lidar with radar.

Cows huddle on the highest ground they can find during the 1996 Swan River flood.

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