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Predictive citywide stormwater models help protect Lethbridge’s infrastructure

In recent years, the City of Lethbridge has experienced several significant rainfall events, resulting in roadway flooding and damage to infrastructure in Alberta’s fourth largest city. Extreme rain events in 2020 further highlighted areas prone to flooding and the need for operational improvements to the City’s stormwater management system.

The City’s stormwater infrastructure consists of approximately 465 kilometres of stormwater pipe, 6,000 stormwater manholes, and many stormwater management facilities. To better understand and help plan for improvements to their stormwater management system, the City of Lethbridge wanted to develop a stormwater model of the system, and retained Associated Engineering to undertake this work. 

Our approach allows the team to focus additional effort on quality control and quality assurance of the models, as well as interpretation of model results

Project Manager, Adam McDonald, tells us, “The City sought the ability to evaluate their stormwater management system against design rainfall events to determine the conditions contributing to flooding. They also wanted to be able to confirm drainage capacities in new areas being developed, and where new areas will be connecting to the existing system.”

Our team’s tasks included data collection and review; development of a geographic information system (GIS) data model and model development templates; data quality control; design rainfall event selection and design; climate change rainfall forecast; development of existing system one-dimension by one-dimension drainage models; quality assurance and quality control reviews; existing system analysis and risk assessment; development of improvement concepts for five top-ranked locations; cost estimates; and reporting.

Model files are large in scope and incorporate all of the drainage infrastructure. As a result, the full City of Lethbridge model has been divided into separate models to streamline model run times. 

The development of detailed stormwater management models using traditional methods is an extremely labour intensive exercise. Associated Engineering’s approach uses GIS tools and programming to facilitate development of key parts of the model. Associated’s team developed one-dimension by one-dimension (1D-1D), dual drainage models of the City’s drainage system, analyzing stormwater flow in the storm sewer system as well as surface drainage. The models needed to cover all of Lethbridge and be sufficiently detailed to predict flooding due to minor system (e.g. gutters, catch basins, and storm sewers) surcharge and major system flows (e.g. streets, streams, channels, and ponds).

Adam explains, “The model development required significant data analysis and pre-processing to verify data.” As a value-added exercise, Associated Engineering committed to additional data input, feature digitization, and GIS quality control.

“Our project team developed automated custom queries for GIS data processing, comparing the data by proximity to help identify and flag any issues. Any missing data was interpolated and flagged for future identification.”

Throughout the project, the team looked for opportunities to further refine our standardized approach to model building and made significant improvements to the GIS programming that is used to streamline the process.

The model results were validated against anecdotal information of historical flooding, matched known flooding locations, and, in some cases, the results of other stormwater models which provided confidence in the accuracy of results produced.

Climate change adaptation was a key consideration on the project. The team provided the City with models that incorporate the design rain events, as well as historical return frequency events, and forecasted climate change events. The forecasted climate change rainfall events will enable the City to quantify the requirements to manage current and future flood risk affected by climate change impacts. 

The team also identified five areas for improvements to mitigate flooding. To assist the City with prioritizing improvements, we recommended that the City work with stakeholders to develop a customized definition of the preferred level of service for each area, based on a triple bottom line approach. The existing system models should then be used to develop a master drainage plan that takes a holistic look at flood risk and mitigation plans and thus inform investment in infrastructure and capital expenditures.

The project is in its final stages, and will be complete early in 2022. Our key personnel on this project included Adam McDonald, Andrew Rushworth, Carmen Janzen, and Laurel Richards

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