Rescue in Calgary’s Confederation Park prompts concerns about flood mitigation work

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Creek rescue prompts flood mitigation work concerns in Calgary
The recent flooding and the rescue of a man from a creek in Confederation Park are raising concerns among people who use the park. The city says it's installing a screen to help reduce flooding but a group says more need to be done. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – Jul 9, 2023

Pat McCulloch enjoys her daily walks through Confederation Park in northwest Calgary, but last Thursday’s downpour was not a pleasant experience.

“At the duck pond, I have never seen it flooded like that before. It was treacherous to walk over this bridge. It’s never been like that,” McCulloch said.

She was at the same place where a man who was using a motorized wheelchair got stuck in the mud on Thursday. He had a phone with him and he kept it above water and called 911. By the time firefighters could get to him, he was in chest-deep water.

“I was stunned. That was such a close call.  Thank God that man had the presence of mind to call 9-1-1 but to be trapped in his wheelchair and awaiting rescue … We dodged a bullet there,” said Simone Lee, president of the Friends of Confederation Creek Association.

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She says the park is designed to hold back stormwater and release it slowly through the system down to Nose Creek. Consequently, when there’s moderate rain, it floods.

An infographic of all the buried creeks in northwest Calgary. City of Calgary

“I have to say that this last event was only a two-hour rainstorm and the flooding was more severe than what we’ve seen before,” Lee said.

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The city is installing a debris screen across Confederation Creek to mitigate the flooding that had been occurring in the last several decades due to the clogging of debris at the downstream outfall.

The area would be flooded for a long period of time because city crews could not safely get under the water to remove the debris.

The city says this was a serious public safety issue.

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A city spokesperson says the screen will help to prevent debris such as fallen branches, leaves, sediment and trash from blocking the flow of water completely through the outfall which will in turn help recede the water and reduce flood duration.

The city says the project also provides safe access to remove debris capturing nets with a crane truck reducing significant manual labor.

Lee says the screen is doing its job but it was completely overwhelmed by this past storm event.  She says the answer is to open up more of the creek.

The creek and dozens of tributaries flow under much of northwest Calgary but they’ve been paved over.

Friends of Confederation Creek Association has been pushing the government to recognize the creek as vital to Calgary’s groundwater and to daylight it. That’s a process that returns water that has been diverted below ground.

The creek flows under Queen’s Park Cemetery. Some park users were hopeful when they noticed city crews start working at the baseball diamond near the cemetery recently thinking it might involve daylighting the creek, but the city says they’re upgrading the irrigation system and adding a drinking fountain.

“Wouldn’t that be beautiful through the cemetery? Wouldn’t it be beautiful if this baseball diamond is allowed to be a marsh and be overwhelmed with water from time to time?” Lee said

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In the meantime, volunteers with Friends of Confederation Creek are distributing maps showing just how much water is flowing beneath our feet and to imagine the possibilities if they were brought back to the light of day.

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