Update on new flood hazard maps and the floodway development regulations (FDR). Why this matters to ALL of Calgary

February 18, 2017 by CRC Action Group in News

We have worked very hard to engage the provincial government in the development of floodway development regulations (FDR) we know are coming, but without success. We’ve stressed that the implementation of the revised flood mapping initiative, which will likely expand the defined “floodway” to include hundreds if not thousands of properties along both rivers and into the downtown, must be coordinated with the development of the FDR, so as not to undermine value through overreaching policy. To learn more about this important topic, read on.


What are the new flood hazard maps?


Alberta Environment & Parks is currently updating the flood hazard maps for both the Elbow and Bow Rivers, including areas within Calgary. These maps delineate important hazard areas such as the “floodway” and the “flood fringe”. Designation of such areas can impact, among other things, market values, the ability to finance and insure, and at what cost, and the availability of Disaster Recovery Program (DRP) funding. Surprisingly, we have been advised that these maps will NOT take into account any existing flood infrastructure (e.g., presumably the Glenmore Reservoir or the Transalta agreement for storage) or proposed flood infrastructure (e.g., the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir). As a result, it is expected that these maps will significantly increase areas within Calgary that are designated to be in the floodway along both rivers and into the downtown core, and newly designate hundred of business and residential properties as such (rather than currently only about 50 residential properties) with potentially very important consequences for all of Calgary.


NOTE – CRCAG has not seen any updated maps and we cannot tell you what an expanded floodway may include, however, our expectation based on conversations we’ve had with various government officials leads us to believe the floodway in Calgary will be expanded. Click here to view the current flood inundation maps for a 1:100 year flood. If, for example, the floodway was expanded to include the entire inundated area – that would be a significant change.


What are the FDR?


In reaction to the flood, in December 2013 the provincial government enacted changes to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to provide the government broad authority, via a simple Cabinet decision, to control, regulate or prohibit any use or development of land in the floodway. Although under the amended MGA, the provincial government can exempt the FDR from applying to municipalities with significant development already in a floodway, only Fort McMurray and Drumheller are currently cited as exempted (see here). Within Calgary, the FDR would supersede any municipal land use by-laws concerning floodway development that are now in place. The FDR are currently being prepared by the Department of Municipal Affairs and the content remains largely unknown. Meaningful input from stakeholders has not been sought nor accepted, despite our best efforts to provide input.


How do they relate and why is it important?


Simply put, we fear that a larger floodway, together with any development and use restrictions contained in the FDR, could have an adverse impact on our CRCAG members and many others – specifically on property values, financing options, the ability to obtain insurance and the future of our communities. Additionally, if property values in the downtown and river communities decline, the City may resort to increasing property taxes in other areas of the City to make up for the deficit – having a much broader reaching, direct financial impact on the citizens of all of Calgary (much like that recently seen regarding downtown vacancy rates and shifting tax burdens to suburban businesses). In addition, it does not appear that the release of the new floodway maps and the FDR are being coordinated, leaving stakeholders uncertain of the impact of either. Importantly, even if the FDR ultimately exempts Calgary from development restrictions (like Drumheller and Fort McMurray), the designation of any property as “floodway”, that ignores the impact of existing or committed infrastructure, could in and of itself drive down value, because of the complexity in any stakeholder understanding what that actually means.


What is CRCAG’s position and what has been done?


CRCAG agrees that it makes sense to have restrictions on floodway development in “greenfield” areas that are not currently developed. But it simply does not make sense within Calgary, where most areas that will be in the newly defined floodway have had substantial development on them for 100+ years, since Calgary was first incorporated at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. CRCAG’s position is that the new flood hazard maps and the FDR are inextricably linked together and should be developed in an integrated process, and implemented within the overall reality of Calgary’s current and anticipated flood management infrastructure and land use development.


In our view, a comprehensive flood mitigation strategy would include the following three elements undertaken in this specific, logical order:


Design, build and operate upstream and/or local flood mitigation infrastructure (e.g., the Springbank Off-stream Reservoir);
> Prepare and release updated flood hazard maps that take into account flood mitigation infrastructure, in designating particular areas as “floodway”, “flood fringe” or otherwise; and
> Create policy and pass regulations for floodway development based on such updated flood hazard maps.


Our concern is that the exact reverse is unfolding – that is, the FDR will be approved based on the existing floodway perimeter (which in Calgary includes only 50 residential properties), and subsequently updated flood hazard maps will be released encompassing hundreds, if not thousands, of additional business and residential properties in the floodway. Our concern is also that existing or planned infrastructure will be ignored in updating the flood mapping and applying the FDR. Together, this could practically result in commensurate damage to the 2013 flood itself: huge property value loss and involving properties well beyond areas that were actually wet at that time (which resulting tax-base loss would have to be covered by the rest of the City).


An FDR exemption must be made for Calgary businesses and residents already established within the flood hazard zone, just as proposed for other well-established municipalities long ago built along rivers, such as Fort McMurray and Drumheller. This must clearly happen before the revised flood hazard maps are released, so that confusion and value destruction are minimized. Sensible, long term development rules should be established so that flood mitigation at the individual property level is gradually adopted through the natural evolution of developed areas.


CRCAG has been actively advocating on this issue since its inception. You may access our communications to government using the links below: 


+ CRCAG letter to Minister Anderson dated February 3, 2017, which attached previous correspondence to his predecessor Minister Larivee, dating back to last summer, and which details our concerns. Please see our comments to get up to speed on this critical issue.


+ Response to CRCAG from Shaye Anderson, Current Minister of Municipal Affairs


+ Response to CRCAG from Danielle Larivee, Former Minister of Municipal Affairs


+ CRCAG older posts on the FDR (and the City’s Land Use Bylaw changes in 2014).


Despite all of this, we have not been able to secure a single discussion with an elected representative of Government on this issue.


If you are concerned about, this please contact The Honourable Shaye Anderson, Minister of Municipal Affairs; 1-780-427-3744; leduc.beaumont@assembly.ab.ca. Please CC us on any emails you send, at: info@crcactiongroup.com


As always, thank you.



Your CRCAG Team