Construction on long-awaited Springbank reservoir to protect Calgary area from floods is officially a go

·3 min read
An artist's rendering of the off-stream reservoir project at Springbank Road.  (Government of Alberta - image credit)
An artist's rendering of the off-stream reservoir project at Springbank Road. (Government of Alberta - image credit)

The Alberta government says it has secured all the land it needs to make construction officially a go on a long-awaited reservoir needed to protect Calgary and surrounding communities from disastrous floods — like the one that killed five people and caused billions of dollars in damages in 2013.

The $432-million Springbank off-stream reservoir will redirect water from the Elbow River into a dry reservoir should extreme flood events occur. With up to $168.5 million in federal funding, the reservoir will be built on about 1,497 hectares of land near the rural community of Springbank, which is west and upstream of Calgary.

The province acknowledged last summer that there was remaining work to do to purchase the land required for the project, which has received significant pushback from the affected landowners for years.

Government of Canada
Government of Canada

On Thursday, it announced that after negotiating with landowners, voluntary agreements had been reached and all of the land needed for the project had been secured.

"I want to say thank you to the landowners who have made this announcement possible, as well as to department staff who engaged in these successful negotiations," Alberta Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney said in a release.

"Alberta's government will be able to get construction going on this important project that will protect hundreds of thousands of Albertans — and especially Calgarians — from future catastrophic flooding."

The project will take about three years to complete, and is expected to be operational by 2024.

Flooding an ongoing concern for Calgary

Earlier this year, provincial and federal regulators both ruled the project was in the public interest, as the City of Calgary and its surrounding areas remain at risk of another flood.

The reservoir was approved by the federal government last summer, after the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada said in January the proposed dam would not pose any significant harmful impact to the environment.

The agency also said that it shouldn't impact socioeconomic conditions of First Nations in the region.

Former Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced federal funding for the reservoir in July.

"We are and we will be seeing more and more of the extreme weather events as a result of the warming climate: wildfires, hotter heat waves, prolonged drought, coastal erosion and flash floods," Wilkinson said at the time.

"This critical project will directly protect 80,000 Calgarians by diverting flood water from the river during extreme floods to a temporary reservoir in nearby farmlands and wetlands, where it will be stored."

However, he said that Alberta Transportation must comply with more than 200 legally-binding conditions throughout the life of the project, including measures to protect:

  • Fish and fish habitat.

  • Migratory birds.

  • Human health.

  • Indigenous peoples' use of land and resources.

  • Physical and cultural heritage.

  • Species at risk.

For example, prior to construction and in consultation with Indigenous groups, Alberta Transportation must finalize a fish and fish habitat offsetting plan, the ministry said.

The ministry said the agency will enforce the conditions listed before construction, during construction and throughout the life of the project.

It is a violation of federal law to not comply with the conditions as stated.

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