Bow River Update

January 24, 2015 by CRC Action Group in News

Short update on Bow River flood mitigation

  • The Province is currently working on plans for public information sessions to address flood mitigation options being pursued for the Bow. The timing for the information sessions will be late February or early March, 2015.
  • Discussions between TransAlta and the Province are ongoing.
  • TransAlta is currently examining whether the Ghost Reservoir can be drawn down further than last year’s pilot level of 1189.3m. Due to a fishery issue related to further draw down, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans becomes involved in this regard
  • Due to the complexity of water management decision on the Bow River, the Province and TransAlta are considering an operating agreement which is comprehensive in scope, and therefore geared towards dealing with both flood and drought periods and the concerns of many different stakeholders.
  • A bathymetric survey of the Ghost Reservoir is planned for the spring of 2015 to address lost storage in the reservoir due to sediment infilling.

CRCAG will continue to keep its membership abreast as per the update above and continues to encourage Bow River residents to write the Premier’s Office (, ESRD Minister ( and MLAs in support of existing and further mitigation options to be explored for the protection of Bow River communities.
We have been advised of a presentation by Dr Jerry Osborn next Thursday evening, January 29th. Event particulars are below.
Many Members will remember Dr. Osborn’s comments at the community meeting that spurred CRCAG to action and have read Calgary Herald articles he has penned, such as:
The topic summary below is informative of some of the politics at play.
If you wish to hear these comments and perhaps share your thoughts, please attend this event. It is Free and no RSVP is required.
The Calgary Geotechnical Society (CyGS) is pleased to announce our next talk to be held on Thursday January 29, 2015 at the Austrian Canadian Cultural Centre (in the Main Hall). Dr. Jerry Osborn, Professor of Geology in the Geoscience Department at the University of Calgary, will give a presentation titled “River Flooding in Calgary:  History, Hydrology, and Politics”. Please see below or our website for more details.
Thursday January 29, 2015
Austrian Canadian Cultural Centre, 3112 – 11 Street NE, Calgary (Main Hall)
5:30 – 6:00 pm: Cash bar and light snack
6:00 – 7:00 pm: Presentation
Free of charge
RSVP not required
TOPIC: River Flooding in Calgary:  History, Hydrology, and Politics
Flooding has played a more prominent role in the history of Calgary than today’s citizens generally realize.  The Mounties who built their fort on top of a small hill above the Bow and Elbow rivers in 1875 apparently had more river smarts than succeeding residents and city councils; when huge floods struck in 1879 and 1897 the fort stayed high and dry.  Overbank flooding of the two rivers was a pretty normal part of life in Calgary around the previous turn of the century, but then the rivers stayed within their banks between 1932 and 2005.  The reasons for the lull are debated, but meteorological chance seems to be part of the story.  In the interim development proceeded on floodplains; residents were happy to have riverside views, developers were happy to make money developing nice flat land, and city councils were happy to get property taxes.  At the time of the 2013 flood there were in Calgary approximately 80 buildings in the floodway, 1520 buildings in the flood fringe, and 530 buildings in the “overland flow zone”.  Many citizens were unaware that they lived in a flood hazard area; part of the reason is a cycle of intentional ignorance in which home sellers on the floodplain like to keep the flood hazard quiet in order to maintain property values.  The 2013 flood was generated by a long-lived storm situated over the headwaters of the Bow and Elbow rivers, superimposed on a melting snowpack.  The flood on the Bow is calculated to be a little larger than a 100-year flood, while the Elbow flood was gigantic, perhaps a 500-year flood.  But the hastily lowered Glenmore Reservoir decapitated the hydrograph such that the downstream flood was approximately 100-year in size.  The city, province, and citizens are now trying to figure out what to do about the hazard, which could increase in scope in the future.  Some voices in the City of Calgary, The Bow River Basin Council, and WaterSMART Alberta are pushing for soft solutions; flood fringe residents want to stay on the floodplain and favor hard solutions; the province is considering some combination.  Jim Prentice’s announcement of a go-ahead for a Springbank off-channel Elbow flood reservoir was made a few days before he announced a byelection in the Calgary-Elbow riding, home base for many Conservative Party supporters who live on the floodplain.  That plan is currently stalled by affected Springbank residents who refuse to let surveyors and environmental assessors onto their land.  The Glenmore Reservoir diversion tunnel scheme remains in limbo; whatever its long-term merits or lack thereof might be, its likelihood of approval diminishes as the price of oil declines.  The wild card in the deck is groundwater flooding, poorly understood and not held back by dikes and berms.
SPEAKER: Jerry Osborn, Ph.D., Professor of Geology, University of Calgary
Jerry Osborn is a Professor of Geology in the Geoscience Department at the University of Calgary, whose main interests are surficial and Quaternary geology, geomorphology, and environmental geology, and on the side, interactions between science and society.  Thousands of students passing through his courses in the decades prior to 2013 listened to his forecast that the Big Flood was coming, and after the Big Flood came he served on Calgary’s Expert Management Panel on River Flood Mitigation. His main line of research is Holocene climate change using glacial-history and lake-sediment proxies, but consulting activities have included aggregate searches, mass-movement hazards analysis, flood hazard analysis, and studies of river migration as applied to boundary-law litigation.    When time allows he searches for the perfect pumpkin pie recipe and teaches his kids the value of listening to Bob Dylan.