The Political Dilemma

I attended an information session regarding the Springbank Dry Reservoir project August 17th, one of many as I have followed this project since it’s announcement in the spring of 2015.

A brief backgrounder; this project was announced shortly before the 2015 election by the Prentice government, it smacked of political pandering to the voters living along the city portion of the Elbow River, a quick fix to any future flooding event, shovel ready was a term used quite often. The project would involve diverting the Elbow River just before it crosses highway 22, north of the traffic circle. A diversionary canal would be built for a kilometer or so and it would then be directed under the highway and into a large (by large, to put it into perspective, it is 27.5 sq. km) dry reservoir surrounded on two sides by permanent berms and a gate system that would be opened post-flood to allow for a controlled drainage back into the Elbow River further downstream. The original proposals and information events painted a very straightforward, well thought out option versus the Maclean Creek option which would involve federal approval processes that would hold back the project for many years. Again, there was a lot of emphasis on the speed at which this project could be accomplished. Anxious inner city residents, traumatized by the last flood, eager to see a solution in place. Groups organized to support and promote their views, Calgary River Communities Action Group, Don’t Damn Springbank Group, the Maclean Creek group, Room for the River, all attempting to bring their views into focus.

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Springbank Offstream Flood Mitigation

I attended the March 2, 2015 Springbank Community Planning Associations’ public meeting regarding the Springbank Off Stream flood mitigation proposal. The groups position was laid out by Gloria Wilkinson whose main concerns where the lack of consultation and involvement of the Springbank community who would be directly affected by this reservoir, the changing scope of the project and the lack of communication and information from the provincial government. Gloria also raised the importance of the study that involves room for the river as a resource that has not been referenced in any during the discussions so far.

Further information and frustration was voiced by Ryan Robinson whose family ranch  will be used for the dry reservoir. He is also involved with the group Don’t Damn Springbank . He spoke of finding out about this project from a report on the radio. He also spoke of the lack of information and clarity from the province.

Also in attendance were Matthew Machielse, Assistant Deputy Minister Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Bruce MacAllister , MLA. There were also members of the Rocky View County Council in attendance, Liz Breakey and Margaret Bahcheli who voiced her concern that the budget numbers did not accurately reflect the cost of the work needed to keep Springbank Road and Hwy. 22 from flooding.

I would like to first make it clear that my interest in this project is twofold, I live in Springbank and as a federal issue in so much as the proposal leaves the community of Redwood Meadows and Bragg Creek unprotected thus involving Tsuu T’ina lands. But this issue speaks louder to me of just how we the people are being represented by the politicians who are elected to serve their communities. We entrust these representatives, whether municipal, provincial or federal, to do right by the people they serve.

A common thread to the discussions that took place was regarding the “decision making process”. Gloria spoke of having to fight to get a public meeting held in her community, Ryan spoke of his frustration with the complete lack of consultation with the land owners directly affected by this proposal and the overall feeling of many in the group that the decision is already made and the “public” input is merely lip service.

I overheard the Deputy Minister in his interview with the media explaining that this was a complicated, technical issue that was hard for people to understand. Now I don’t know about you but that was a pretty condescending remark and there were several very knowledgeable people in the room who spoke about water flow issues and the effects on dry dams, another man spoke of earthen dams and government regulations from his own experience having built a number of them in the Fort MacMurray region and another woman speaking to the need for serious geological investigations on the underlying structure beneath the dam site, who is herself a geologist. A resident of Bragg Creek voicing her support of the Maclean Creek option armed with the governments own guidelines on looking for creative recreational uses of lands involved in flood mitigation issues seemed fully capable of understanding these complicated issues.

We as the public understand that issues are complicated and technical, despite the media trying to condense every issue into a sound bite. We the public are prepared to engage with our leaders in coming up with the best solutions for these complicated issues. We the public expect that our elected officials engage with us throughout the process of decision making. We the public have to live with those decisions.

The Deputy also spoke of the damage to downtown Calgary from the previous flood being caused by the Elbow River. That is not the case, the biggest economic damage done in Calgary was from having the downtown core shut down for the better part of a week and this was caused by the Bow River waters. The damage done by the Elbow mainly affected housing and the Stampede grounds, which unfortunate and at a cost but nothing compared with the downtown costs.

I have heard from a number of people that building on flood plains in essence is the problem of those who did so and should not be paid for by the general public. Which on the surface seems like a legitimate concern but historically, human civilization always gravitated to the closest source of water. Calgary itself was founded at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, not on Nosehill.

When asked directly to answer the very salient and intelligent questions, Matthew Machielse at no time answered with the phrase, I will take your concerns and get back to you with firm numbers. Instead he just repeated the empty phrase that all the information is online for people to investigate for themselves and several options were put forward (none of which he cared to elaborate on) and the dry reservoir was deemed the most viable. He put off questions regarding the McLean Creek with some feigned concern about environmental issues that would take a decade to fully investigate.

As a Green Party candidate, environmental issues are very important to me, but in this case, the environmental concerns were used as a weapon to deflect away from what was clearly a decision to select a convenient option. There was no regard for the environmental impact of the dry reservoir. There was no regard for the people whose lives and livelihoods would be affected by this decision. At the very least I would have expected the government to go to the landowners and ask them for their input before this option even became public and they didn’t.

My input to the discussions of the evening was with regards to the bigger water issues to be faced by Alberta and that is the diminishing water resources. Yes, there will be floods but the bigger and much more important concern and future development strategies must be with conserving, protecting and storing water for future use. I posted a story from the BBC yesterday that correlated the drought in Syria with the ensuing civil unrest .