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Downtown flood barrier, Eau Claire pathway complete

Now fully complete, downtown flood barrier improvements would have mitigated most of the downtown damage done in 2013 by Bow River floodwaters, according to the City’s manager of environment.

The City of Calgary officially opened the downtown flood barrier Thursday, and with it the connection of the Eau Claire Promenade. The project had been under construction for the past three years.

The downtown flood barrier is a 1.39-kilometre-long structure made of steel sheet piles, earth berms and concrete walls built to protect against a 1-in-200-year flood. As it coincided with the continued construction of the Eau Claire promenade portion of the River Walk and last year’s completion of the Jaipur Bridge, much of the construction was integrated into the natural form of the river valley and interconnectivity with the surrounding communities.

A total combined $49.8 million investment from the City of Calgary, the Province of Alberta and the Government of Canada funded the project.

“With this infrastructure in place, none of the downtown would have been inundated, except for those components that would have been inundated by the Elbow River,” said Frank Frigo, City of Calgary manager of Environmental Management.

Frigo said there are now 4.1 kilometres of continuously protected riverfront between the Peace Bridge and the Reconciliation Bridge.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she remembered the impassable roads, the power shut down and the suspension of transit in the downtown because of the 2013 flood.

“Through incredible volunteerism, a sense of duty and some key investments, we now find ourselves standing here today in an area that was once submerged,” the mayor said.  

“(It’s) not only has required infrastructure to protect us from a one-in-200-year flood event, but an area that has now also become exceptionally community-minded and has received beautification.”

First downtown vibrancy project

The Docks is a new community gathering space that was created with flood mitigation in mind where the new downtown flood barrier was completed, adjacent to the Jaipur Bridge. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Thom Mahler, the director of the Downtown Strategy said this project was a significant step forward for the downtown revitalization.

When this project was first conceptualized, Mahler said they saw an opportunity to provide a community-focused space, while providing a better east-west commuter connection in the downtown. The pathway itself separates walkers and wheelers, allowing enjoyment for all users without conflict.

“The result is a space that connects Calgarians with the beautiful banks of the Bow River and the hustle and bustle of our downtown core,” he said.

Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said this is an example of different levels of government working together to create quality infrastructure that not only protects people but protects valuable property and land.

“If you look at the Bow River today, many of us could probably walk across parts of it without getting their needs wet,” said McIver.

“But that’s not what it’s like in the spring, and that’s not what it’s like when Mother Nature decides that to remind us that she’s in charge.”

McIver said that work on the Springbank Offstream Reservoir is underway, with expected completion in 2025. That will reduce the potential Elbow River flood impact on Calgary and downstream. He said they’re also looking at sites for an upstream dam on the Bow River.

Calgary-Skyview MP George Chahal said the Government of Canada provided $6.1 million under the Green Infrastructure program.

“With the recent increase in extreme climate events, we must continue to work together with our provincial and municipal partners across Canada to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our communities into the future as we work towards our goal of achieving the net zero emissions by 2050,” Chahal said.

With the Springbank Reservoir’s completion, the city estimates flood damage exposure to Calgary would be reduced by 70 per cent.