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A 50-year record snowfall, late spring, and the possibility of a quick melt have CUPE 21 members out on the streets. City of Regina outside workers from parks, sewer, and irrigation are working hard to protect low-lying areas.

City crews sandbag areas that are vulnerable to excess water and spring run-off, including at-risk residences and city property. Normally this task falls to the sewer department but because projections estimate that water levels will be up to two feet higher than in 2011, parks and irrigation workers are joining them.

Bob Strand, a CUPE member and a supervisor of parks who has been with the city for 33 years, is in charge of making and installing the smaller sandbags. Strand says that residents, or even council, aren’t aware of the amount of hard work and energy that goes into sandbagging.

The art of making sandbags

City crews used more than 1,000 tons of dry sand from the public works aggregate yard to make 56,000 sandbags. They worked two shifts, seven days a week for more than two weeks. In the past, sandbags were made with wet sand but they froze on site and didn’t make a good wall. Although by using 100 per cent dry sand the bags are consistent and useable, it makes for really dusty conditions and hard work. Everyone wore dust masks and those wearing glasses had to keep cleaning them.

Lead hand Garth Hubick suggested using a jig that he saw on the Internet. The irrigation department built four jigs with pipes so that sandbags were the same size and weight – 40 pounds each. The system impressed the manager of the sewer department so much that she brought the mayor and council in to see the set-up.

Strand was pleased that council had the opportunity to see the operation. “They now understand what kind of conditions staff had to work under and the sacrifices city workers do to help protect property.”

A mammoth undertaking

Preparing for the spring melt involved a lot of details, equipment, supplies, and work. Project managers had to secure a building large enough to dump sand with a tandem truck, source 1300 pallets to hold the sandbags, arrange trucking to haul the sand in, arrange for washrooms and running water for 150-plus workers, and arrange for supplies. 

The building had eight, 40” high-velocity fans circulating the air to try to keep the dust to a minimum.  Strand said that often the wind would come from the opposite direction and blow the dust back in. The crew went through “cases and cases” of dust masks.

Although there were obstacles and hurdles to deal with,” said Strand. “We all worked together to get the job done.”

CUPE 21 members are now out on the streets of Regina building berms to shore up low-lying areas.  Parks crews are building walls using the 40-pound bags. Irrigation crews are setting up Tiger Dams that involve pumps. Meanwhile, sewer department workers are using large white grain bags filled with sand and Hesko dams to add to the effort.  After the big bags are placed, parks crews do in-fill to make sure ends are covered off and there’s no leakage.

When the ice and snow start melting, sewer department crews will staff pumps 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep the run-off under control. After the melt, parks crews will clean up parks and get them ready for the public. CUPE 21 members will also be busy fixing potholes and repainting lines on the road, keeping Regina’s streets safe.

As one of the supervisors, I can say we’re so appreciative of our city crews and the hard work they do in difficult environmental and working conditions,” said Strand.

CUPE 21 members can be proud of the services they provide to residents in Regina!