Public interest review begins into proposed reservoir to protect Calgary from floods

·3 min read

EDMONTON — A public interest review of a proposed reservoir that could protect Calgary from future flooding started Monday with Alberta Transportation defending the project.

The hearing by the Natural Resources Conservation Board, which is an arm's-length agency of the Alberta government, is to determine whether the project is in the public interest by looking at its social, economic and environmental effects.

Alberta Transportation proposed the $432-million off-stream reservoir near the rural community of Springbank, Alta., west of and upstream from Calgary.

"The reason we are before you today with this project is in direct response to the massive flooding in 2013 in southern Alberta and the city of Calgary, which resulted in significant economic and personal costs to the province and its citizens," said Matthew Hebert, the department's executive director for the project.

He noted that flood led to five deaths and more than $5 billion in damage.

"In Calgary, the flooding of the Bow and Elbow rivers resulted in some 88,000 people being displaced, 14,500 homes damaged, 3,000 other buildings flooded and 4,000 businesses damaged," said Hebert.

"It was a terrible event that will always be remembered by those who lived through it."

Hebert said the government of Alberta realized it needed to take action to prevent similar catastrophes.

"History has shown that a flood of some magnitude on the Elbow River is expected every eight to 10 years."

The off-stream reservoir, also known as a dry dam, would work with the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary to accommodate water volumes on the Elbow River equal to the 2013 flood.

It has faced stiff opposition from some landowners, who would prefer another site further upstream so as not to affect their properties.

The Alberta government said last September it had acquired about 20 per cent of the land it needed to build the dam.

Several First Nations have also expressed concerns about the project.

The TsuuT'ina Nation ended its opposition of the proposed reservoir because it secured a $32-million grant from the Alberta government for flood mitigation, restoration and prevention.

Two others — the Ermineskin Cree Nation and the Blood Tribe/Kainai — have also withdrawn from the review.

Stoney Nakoda First Nation, the Springbank Concerned Landowners Group, the Calgary River Communities Action Group and the City of Calgary all have standing at the hearing, which is expected to take between 10 and 14 days.

The Springbank group said in a news release Monday that they were able to retain the services of experts to address their concerns during the hearing.

"The independent experts found material design limitations and significant negative society outcomes ... that taxpayers should be made aware of," said Karin Hunter, president of the Springbank Community Association, which oversees the group. "We look forward to highlighting this information to the independent panel."

The board said it will issue a decision report within 80 business days once the hearing concludes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2021.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press