Review hears closing arguments into proposed reservoir to protect Calgary from floods

The location of the Springbank off-stream reservoir project in relation to Calgary, Alta. from a video created by the government. Government of Alberta/YouTube

A lawyer for Alberta Transportation says there’s a serious and urgent need for a proposed reservoir that could protect Calgary from future flooding.

Ron Kruhlak made the comment during his closing argument Tuesday before the Natural Resources Conservation Board, an arm’s-length agency of the Alberta government.

The board held a two-week-long hearing to determine whether the project is in the public interest by considering its social, economic and environmental effects.

Alberta Transportation proposed the $432-million off-stream reservoir near the rural community of Springbank, Alta., which is west and upstream of Calgary.

“The evidence clearly supports the conclusion that there is a serious need for this project to be built as soon as possible, that this project is in the public interest for the people of Alberta,” said Kruhlak.

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The reservoir, which would divert water from the Elbow River, was proposed after extensive flooding in Calgary in 2013. It led to five fatalities and more than $5 billion in damages across southern Alberta.

The project has the support of Calgary, but it has faced opposition from some landowners — including the Springbank community and the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

“The public interest must also include flood protection for communities upstream of the City of Calgary and must recognize their riparian rights,” said Sara Louden, a lawyer representing Stoney Nakoda.

“The public interest cannot assume the priority of urban populations over rural populations. The public interest must include the oldest rights holders of this land, the Indigenous peoples.”

READ MORE: ‘The government can do better’: Critics of Springbank Dam hold information session

Richard Secord, a lawyer for the Springbank Community Landowners Group, said his clients also don’t believe the project is in the public interest.

“If approved, one community wins flood protection to a one-in-200 year level and one loses its environment, its heritage, its culture, its quality of life and potentially its future,” he said in his closing argument.

“(The project) does not have the support of the Springbank community.”

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Alberta Transportation, however, argued that it’s not the board’s job to look at other potential projects.

“There is only one project under review, only one project being advanced,” said Kruhlak, noting the sole purpose of the reservoir is to deliver flood mitigation on the Elbow River.

“The 2013 flood was a terrible event,” he said. “The need for this project is without question.

“The project is needed and it is needed now.”

The provincial department got support at the hearing from the Calgary River Community Action Group, Flood Free Calgary and the City of Calgary.

“The 2013 flood had a significant impact on public safety and public infrastructure,” said Lou Cusano, a lawyer representing the group.

He said the reservoir would have both a public benefit and improve public safety.

Melissa Senek, a lawyer for the City of Calgary, added that the benefits of the reservoir are staggering.

“(It) is the most important piece of proposed infrastructure in the history of the City of Calgary and the broader Calgary region,” she said. “This is critical public investment necessary for the protection of human life and regional infrastructure.

“If this project is completed, the residents of Calgary will finally have protection from one of the greatest threats currently facing the city.”

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The board has said it would issue a decision report within 80 business days once the hearing concludes.

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