The head of the city's expert flood panel says operating a dam differently on the Bow River upstream of Calgary could help head off the next flood.

Wolf Keller says Calgary could be protected if TransAlta operated the Ghost Dam as a flood-control dam instead of conserving water to generate hydro power.

In a high-water situation, Keller says TransAlta could release large volumes of water to lower the level of the Ghost Reservoir ahead of a flood crisis.

He says the province is talking with TransAlta about the dam's operation, as the utility would want to be compensated for operating its dam differently.

"I think you could avoid flooding entirely if you stage your release over a sufficient time," he said.

"There is a lot of water in the Ghost Reservoir, and to try and shed it before the peak runoff you would want to allow yourself some weeks to do that."

Keller says releasing water without generating power could cost the utility a lot of money — but adds it could also prevent a bigger financial disaster downstream for all. 

The City of Calgary estimates the flood cost it roughly $500 million in damages.