Feature Articles

Elbow River Flood Mitigation - An Update on Proposed Springbank Off-stream Reservoir Project

by Ann Sullivan

In 2014, one year after the largest flood since 1897, the Government of Alberta under leader Jim Prentice decided to move forward with the Springbank Off-stream Reservoir Project (SR1) as a way to mitigate future flooding. When complete, the dry reservoir, in conjunction with the Glenmore Reservoir, would be able to handle the same volume of water as in the flood of 2013.

The project is now seeking regulatory approval from the provincial Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) and the federal Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAA), formerly called the Canadian Environmental Approval Agency (CEAA). The length of this process and its outcome are both unknown at present. Following approval, the Province will need to acquire land for the project, only 20 percent of which has been acquired so far.  Remaining landowners, some of whom strongly oppose SR1, could require expropriation.

“The regulatory process is unpredictable,” Matthew Hebert, executive director, transportation policy with Alberta Transportation, noted in a letter to the ERWP, “and setting definitive timelines is challenging as a result.” Once the project receives final approval, the project will take an estimated three years to construct. 

Climate Change and the Elbow River

by Ann Sullivan

In early November 2019, more than 11,000 scientists from around the world declared that the Earth is in the midst of a climate crisis. The scientists were not the first to make the statement. In June of this year, Canadian politicians also passed a motion to declare a climate emergency, noting that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

David Sauchyn, director of the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC) at the University of Regina, is perhaps more aware than most of the effects of climate change on our country and planet. Sauchyn, a professor of geography and environmental studies, has been studying climate change for 40 years. Starting in the 1990s, he became aware that there was “a whole social and political element” to climate change. “It’s really hard these days to separate the science and the reaction people have to it,” he said. 

West Bragg Creek Trails Connect Visitors and Nature

By Ann Sullivan

Trails image 1On a beautiful day in the southern Alberta foothills, you can find the trails in West Bragg Creek by following a steady stream of vehicles to the trailhead. Some people make their way by foot or bike via the newly built Great Trail, which parallels the West Bragg Creek Road and Range Road 54. Whichever way you choose to access the area, you’ll find a vast network of multi-use, non-motorized trails less than an hour from Calgary.

These days, a paved road connects the hamlet of Bragg Creek to the trailhead parking lot about 10 kilometres away. But the West Bragg Creek trails, in the heart of the Elbow River watershed, were not always so well known or well used. What began as a loose network of horse and cart trails, seismic cut-lines, mining roads and unofficial recreational trails has developed in the past 10 years into 152 kilometres of all-season trails.

Protecting Groundwater is Key to Elbow River Health

Rae Glacier stream flowing over rocks.The Elbow River may be the only river in the world whose major end use is drinking water. And although it supplies water to about half the population of Calgary and one in six Albertans, it’s not a big river, just one-tenth the size of the Bow. Cathy Ryan, a professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary, makes these points to illustrate how important it is to protect the Elbow and its aquifer. Since the aquifer is directly hydraulically connected to the river, Ryan said, any river activities can directly affect water quality. Ryan is concerned that the Elbow is not being adequately protected because it’s “a casualty to the fact that people want to live close to rivers.”

Much of the flow in the Elbow River moves through the aquifer to the river, either after percolating down through the aquifer itself or through rocks, cracks and soil before flowing into the aquifer and then the open-stream river. Surface water, which comes directly from rain and snowmelt, makes up a much smaller percentage of water in the Elbow.

The Need for Wetlands Protection

By Ann Sullivan

Wetlands are a critical part of a healthy environment. They moderate the effects of floods and droughts, store and filter water, provide habitat for fish, wildlife and plants, and help to sustain biodiversity. However, despite the integral role they play in the environment, wetlands are still viewed by some as just another marshy piece of land that needs filling in to be of real use.

Shrubby wetland area, photo by Flora Giesbrecht

Photo by Flora Giesbrecht

Judy Stewart, a Cochrane resident and longtime wetlands and water advocate, would like to see a change in people’s attitudes toward these underappreciated areas. “[Wetlands] perform so many different functions that we need because of climate change,” Stewart says, “but no one has been able to put a dollar value on that.”

In 2013, the Government of Alberta introduced a new wetland policy to replace two interim policies from 1993. Stewart said she was encouraged by initial recommendations for the new policy, but she was not pleased with the final result. “What they put together is quite watered down,” she said of the current wetland policy.  “I was quite disappointed,” she added. “We waited a long time for it.”

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