Room for the River

January 25, 2015 by CRC Action Group in News

Members of your CRCAG Team met on Thursday January 22 with representatives of Alberta WaterSmart (WS), Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) and representatives from the Sunnyside community, to hear a presentation by WS and answer questions regarding the recently published “Room for the River” Report prepared by WS for the Government of Alberta (Report).
The Report can be found HERE.
For anyone impacted by the 2013 flood, this is a must read.
Please note that there is a period for public comments, but it closes on JANUARY 31. We urge you do provide your comments to the Government and WaterSmart. Here’s how:
Alberta WaterPortal website:
Please feel free to copy CRCAG at: if you wish.
There is too much content in the Report to summarize here. Our meeting was very informative in providing broader background and perspective than comes through in the Report. But CRCAG expressed very significant concerns with some of its content and recommendations (as did the Sunnyside representatives) and made these points very clearly to ESRD and WS. While we know these comments were received and welcomed, we do urge you to voice what concerns or compliments you may have with the Report. We need your voices.
Here are some key points:

  • The Report is not Government policy. It is one important data point and is meant to present a broad range of ideas and options regarding watershed management and flood mitigation on the Bow and Elbow. These are presented at a high level and much further work would need to be done on many of them to drive out the important detail required before they could be sensibly implemented.
  • Page 50 lists the Contributors to the Report, principally water managers and users, irrigation districts and the like. No broader public consultation was sought at this stage given WS’s mandate. CRCAG was not at the table.
  • The proposed flood mitigation infrastructure projects on the Elbow river, being the Springbank Road Off-Stream Reservoir (SR1), the McLean Creek Dry Dam (MC1) and the Glenmore Underground Diversion Tunnel  ( are cited as “room for the river” components, but are not deeply considered as these were out of scope for the Report.
  • The Report is an attempt to take the learnings from the Dutch experience with water management and leverage those for Alberta’s benefit. The very many differences between Alberta and the Netherlands are cited. This effort is really meant to set forth a “pilot” approach to the iterative analysis to follow, as this type of watershed flood management is somewhat new to Alberta.
  • While CRCAG appreciates the importance of considering a broad range of possible solutions for entire watershed management, certain specific statements are made in the Report that are deeply troubling, and were highlighted by CRCAG. There are numerous references to “removing obstacles” in the “floodplain” (being the flood way, flood fringe and overland flow areas) as a water management strategy, often with reference to last year’s “buyout” program for floodway buildings and suggestions that this be considered for extension throughout the floodplain. The most egregious statement, on p.39, reads “Develop a long-term purchase program budget and process that enables buy-outs whenever flood zone residential properties come on the market to gradually make more room for the river in high hazard areas”. Worse, this is cited in the Report as a possible “No Regrets” opportunity, which implies least damaging or quick wins. From the outset, CRCAG’s view has been that the original buy-out policy implemented by the Government, at least as applied to Calgary, was ill-considered, hugely and unnecessarily expensive, destructive to neighbourhoods and ultimately a policy failure. We’ve extensively written on this matter. The cavalier suggestion that it should be applied more broadly, leading to the not-so-gradual erosion of our inner-city, is simply not on. Such a policy applied to an area would quickly gut it of value. We said as much. WS did say that the discussion on these development considerations focused on green field developments, not established developed areas, and that was the emphasis to the Recommendations in this regard.
  • Like the quote above, the slant in these references is often toward residential properties and not toward commercial buildings, which, having larger footprints, is counterintuitive. In fact, CRCAG can not understand how the City of Calgary, a Contributor to the Report, can alter the Land Use Bylaw last June in a way that is unnecessarily punitive to home owners while building City-owned infrastructure (the Library) and approving significant projects in the East Village which, like City Hall itself, suffered profound water damage. Given the inner-City’s topography, including Calgary’s core, we see no logical policy distinctions between a house in Sunnyside or an Inglewood condo and the Bow Tower or Telus Sky. Each are at relatively equivalent risk and each are deserving of upstream protection.

As mentioned, the comments made in the Report are not Government policy. But we clearly don’t want them or their underlying philosophy to evolve to become Government policy. We don’t want them “normalized” into the conversation. This is a complete non-start, and must be challenged at every mention.
If you agree with this, or have other views on this Report, please make them known and provide your comments to our Government through the links above.
As always, thank you for your ongoing support.