3 years ago I published a blog about the highly controversial flood mitigation project, the Springbank Dry Dam. (SBD)
Here it is again, with some updates.
In the fall of 2014, to great fanfare and just before the Alberta provincial by-elections, the PC government announced the Springbank Dry Dam (SBD); an Elbow River flood mitigation project to be constructed a few kilometers west of Calgary. The announcement was in the papers and on television, and sadly, that’s where landowners who will lose their land, or the use of their land, found out about it. Talk about a callous and cynical disregard for property rights!
There is no question that some form of flood mitigation is required before we inevitably get hit by the next big one. After all, Calgary was subjected to two floods in the late 1800s, each bigger than the 2013 deluge. But it has to be the right project in the right place, and at the right cost.
Here are a few things for Calgarians, and anyone else who believes in property rights, to think about.
Is it right that people whose lives will be disrupted, livelihoods threatened, and property values greatly diminished are completely ignored in the planning stages of a project of this magnitude and impact?
Does it make sense to locate a flood mitigation dam where it will provide absolutely no protection to the communities of Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows, both of which suffered serious damage in 2013?
Ranching families in the area have ridden these foothills and valleys for generations, and know them intimately. In fact, they have been ranching in the area since 1885; decades before people began building mansions on the Elbow River floodplains. Why was their counsel not sought in the lead up to the announcement of the SBD?
These people of the land point to a number of better locations for a flood mitigation project which would not only protect Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows but would also provide larger scale and safer protection for the City of Calgary.
Several upstream Elbow dam proposals actually have been discussed by Government bureaucrats. One site that appeared to be viable was the McLean Creek area, but the government told us that “it was finding it too complicated to wade through all the government regulatory requirements, recreational aspects, and environmental concerns that would involve placing the dam on public lands.”
Think about that. Future infrastructure projects in Alberta must sometimes only be undertaken on private lands because it is too complicated to comply with government regulations, when putting them on on public (government) land. But if the land is privately held they can, apparently, simply announce the project through the media and, voilà!, problem solved.
In addition to being in the wrong place, the proposed SBD project is based on seriously flawed research. After they announced the SBD, representatives of the Government proudly told us that the project is to be based on a concept they discovered while on a recent trip to the mountain-less Netherlands. It even has a catchy name: “Room for the River.”
As we know, when rivers flood their banks in fertile alluvial regions like those upstream from the Netherlands, the water carries rich organic sediment downstream and deposits it along the river’s flood plains. When the water subsides, the land can be farmed intensively. Does the government actually believe that this is what will happen in the Elbow River Valley?
Anyone who has witnessed flooding in an alpine setting will recognize this as complete nonsense. The proposed “dry dam” will provide a shallow, temporary catchment basin for floodwaters containing mountain sediment and rock grindings.
When the water is released it will leave the sediment behind, and will turn thousands of hectares of pristine and carefully managed grazing land, into a vast, sterile, mud flat. Rock grindings are inorganic and will kill grass rather than fertilize it.
I was in High River several times after the 2013 flood, and the sediment was being hauled away because nothing will grow in it. But how can you remove sterile muck from thousands of hectares?
You can’t, so as the sediment dries out the muck will turn to dust, and a once lush valley will become a dust bowl and westerly winds will carry that dust into homes west of Calgary, and into Calgary itself.
Has the government asked the folks in Springbank and West Calgary how they feel about rock dust? I haven’t heard about it. Because that’s government’s way. They come up with bright ideas to “help you”; insist that they’ve had the finest experts develop the solution, but tend to under-emphasize, or completely ignore, unintended consequences.
A few years ago, Travel Alberta came out with some great commercials telling you to: “Remember to Breathe.” Great advice, especially for West Calgarians, while you still can.
Here’s a commercial I’d like to see, to be directed at governments everywhere.
“Your decisions – including their unintended consequences – affect real people. So, Remember to Think!”
I’m Dave Reesor
** Don’t Dam Springbank.org published this disturbing reminder. I don’t remember it being emphasized in government talking points, or by local media, but it should be a central part of the discussion.