Springbank reservoir 10 months behind schedule due to environmental review

The Springbank dry reservoir, which will fill up with water in the event of a flood, is meant to protect Calgary from a swollen Elbow River.

The dry reservoir is meant to protect Calgary if the Elbow River spills its banks

Transportation Minister Brian Mason says his government would prefer not to expropriate land in Springbank but will do so to get the project built. (CBC)

If approved, the Springbank dry reservoir will be 10 months behind schedule due to a year-long review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The reservoir, which will fill up with water in the event of a flood, is meant to protect Calgary from a swollen Elbow River. 

In order to speed along the process while waiting for approval, the provincial government said it will pre-select a contractor.

It has already expanded its legal team to deal with landowner negotiations. That includes outside counsel from the firm McLennan Ross LLP and "one of the top land acquisition lawyers in the city of Calgary," said Transportation Minister Brian Mason.


Mason said he's hopeful the government can come to an agreement with landowners in the area, but it is prepared to expropriate land if needed to get the project built as quickly as possible. 

"We could start to do the expropriation process, but without an approved project, I think the legal risks of doing so are very significant. So we are compelled, almost, by the legislation, to wait until we have an approved project before we begin that process," he said.

Artist rendering of the off-stream reservoir project at Springbank Road. (Axel Tardieu/Radio-Canada)

"I want to state for the record that it's really a last resort. We would really not like to expropriate the land, we would like to negotiate a fair agreement with the landowners."

The project will require 3,600 acres of farmland to be sold to the province. 

McLean Creek 

There has been opposition to the project from landowners. The group Don't Damn Springbank pushed for the environmental review and has been vocal in pushing for an alternative reservoir in McLean Creek, something the government already rejected. 

The Tsuut'ina First Nation also opposes the reservoir and agrees with the Springbank landowners that McLean Creek should be the site of a reservoir. 

A visualization of what the proposed (and since abandoned) McLean Creek dry dam would look like when holding back water. (Government of Alberta/YouTube screenshot)

Mason again knocked down the idea on Friday. 

"Our government is committed to this project and we will move to protect Calgary from major flooding events in the quickest possible manner."

He also said the risk calculations favour the project over landowners in the Springbank area. 

"In the end, protecting the lives and property of a million Calgarians is the overriding factor here, so we have to take that into account," he said. 

The province has also committed $8.9 million for flood mitigation for Redwood Meadows on Tsuut'ina land. 

Delay disappoints mayor

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed frustration that the project will be further delayed.

"The Springbank off-stream reservoir is among the most critical elements of the flood mitigation infrastructure needed to protect Calgary. So, naturally, it's disappointing to hear that it will be delayed further. That said, I am confident that the provincial government will continue to act to protect downstream communities — our people, property and economy — from future flooding," Nenshi said. 

The mayor acknowledged that the province is committed to flood mitigation, as is the city. 

"As a city, we are still working on many flood mitigation projects within city limits," he said. "We are more prepared for a flood than we were five years ago, but we still have more work to do."

Calgary coalition concerned

Meanwhile, a coalition of citizens and businesses called Flood Free Calgary blamed Springbank landowners and others for the latest project delay.

"Five years after the devastating 2013 floods, area landowners and other interests are continuing to delay completion of the Springbank off-stream reservoir project," said the group's Paul Battistella in a release.

"The concern we have now is that this additional delay … puts this project at serious risk."

Battistella noted the delay means the reservoir won't be fully operational until at least the 2023 flood season — a full decade after the worst flood in the city's history.

He said every additional year "creates a heightened risk" that the project won't be completed before Calgary's next flood.

Public information sessions

The revised timeline for the Springbank project would see construction start in 2019 and work completed by 2022.

Mason said the province has applied for funds under a $2-billion federal program for projects that help protect communities against natural disasters. 

There will be two information sessions on the project and its new timeline:

  • May 22 — 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wild Wild West Event Centre.
  • May 24 — 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Calgary First Church of the Nazarene.

With files from Scott Dippel