The Springbank off-stream reservoir to protect Calgary from flooding is set to go ahead and will receive up to $168.5 million in federal funding.
Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson made the announcement in Calgary on Tuesday, and after he approved the project earlier this month in light of a report issued by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
It concluded the Elbow River reservoir is unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects with mitigation measures in place.
Wilkinson said Tuesday the funds from the Government of Canada will come from its Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, and emphasized the importance of building infrastructure to prevent damage resulting from climate change.
"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.
"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."
Project intended to mitigate flooding
Alberta Transportation plans to build the $432-million reservoir near the rural community of Springbank, Alta., which is west and upstream of Calgary.
The project is intended to protect Calgarians and residents of nearby communities from significant flood events, like the one that took place in 2013.
It killed five people, flooded downtown, caused billions of dollars in damage and forced tens of thousands to flee.
During Tuesday's announcement, both Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney said they were grateful the project could help to mitigate similar disasters in the future.
"The memory of that terrible event stays with me and my fellow citizens, even today," Sawhney said.
"This project is expected to reduce high flood flows on the Elbow [River], and its reservoir, in conjunction with the Glenmore reservoir, can store floodwaters to the level experienced in 2013."
Land acquisition not yet complete
Construction should begin next spring if land acquisitions go smoothly, Sawhney said.
However, she acknowledged there is remaining work to do to purchase the land required for the project, which has received significant pushback from the affected landowners for years.
Sawhney said that between 42 to 44 per cent of land acquisition for the reservoir is complete, and the rest has to be in place before the end of July.
"We are continuing to engage with landowners — and, of course, the runway time is shortening, so we have to make sure that we do this work very quickly," Sawhney said.
"There are a few people who have very valid concerns, and I can assure you that that engagement will continue."
As per Wilkinson's decision to approve the project earlier this month, 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.
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.
To prevent bank erosion, Alberta must also install and maintain sediment fences and turbidity barriers — due to a risk flagged in various reports and by landowners.
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.