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Springbank offstream reservoir project moves a step closer to 2022 construction

Along the banks of the Elbow River, Calgary and area took a step closer to providing flood protection for the city.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi along with provincial and federal ministers announced the plan for the Springbank project at an event Tuesday.

The project received federal approval after an environmental assessment report was submitted on June 8, approved by Canada’s impact assessment regime. The statement outlined several areas that will be continuously monitored throughout construction, such as amphibian habitat.

The project itself will be built 15 kilometres west of Calgary in a floodplain drainage area of the Elbow River. In the event of a flood, the water would be diverted from the main river to a reservoir constructed in a naturally low area. The water would then flow back into the river after the temporary stop in the reservoir. The project is supposed to stop a one in a 100-year flood from damaging downstream infrastructure.

Controversy has surrounded the project in the past, with several groups opposed to it. Springbank landowners and the Stoney Nakoda First Nation were concerned about the damage the project could do to their land and property, as well as possible effects on groundwater.

The Tsuut’ina First Nation was also initially opposed but eventually came to support the project. It was confirmed at the July 20 announcement that the opposition from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation was also formally withdrawn as of July 2.

Financial support

In addition to federal approval, Johnathan Wilkinson, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said that the federal government would help the project with the promise of financial support up to $168.5 million.

Wilkinson said that other natural disasters in Alberta have proven that something like the 2013 floods may happen again and the province needs to be prepared with projects like this.

“There is an old saying about closing the barn door after the horse has bolted,” Wilkinson said.

“In 2013 Calgary experienced the most destructive flood in the history of the province. The horse had bolted, but we can’t trust luck and fate for it to not happen again.”

Ongoing land acquisition

While the funding is a boon for the project, land acquisition is still ongoing. There is a narrow window for it to be completed. Less than half of all land needed has been acquired. The remaining 58 to 56 per cent must be acquired by the end of July.

Alberta Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney said that expropriation may be required to obtain all land before the deadline.

“We are continuing to engage with landowners, and the runway time is short. We’ll have to do this work very quickly,” Minister Sawhney said.

“If we get to the point where we have to use expropriation then we will have to take that route.”

Minister Sawhney acknowledged that this was a good announcement for the vast majority of Calgarians. Valid concerns about the project remain, she said. They continue to work with landowners impacted by the project.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that Springbank residents needed to remember the loss during the 2013 floods. And that the sacrifice for the Springbank project will ensure no one is hurt from floods ever again.

“Understand we are a community of people together. We have to protect people. This is the right solution,” Mayor Nenshi said.

“There have been eight years of study on all the other options. Ultimately every study said the Springbank offstream reservoir was the right solution.”

Currently, the budget for the project is $432 million. Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2022.