Springbank reservoir won't pose major risks to environment, federal review finds

The proposed Sprinkbank reservoir would not pose any significant impact to the environment, according to a draft report from the federal government. 

Dam intended to provide critical flood mitigation for Calgary and nearby communities

An artist's rendering of the off-stream reservoir project near Springbank Road. (Government of Alberta)

The proposed Sprinkbank reservoir would not pose any significant harmful impact to the environment, according to a draft report from the federal government. 

"Taking into account the implementation of the key mitigation and follow-up program measures, the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects," the report from the The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada concludes. 

The report also found the dam shouldn't impact socioeconomic conditions of First Nations in the region. 

It says the proposed mitigation measures would become binding if the dry dam receives federal approval. 

The reservoir — which could fill with up to 70.2 million cubic metres of water from a swollen Elbow River — is intended to protect Calgarians and residents of nearby communities from an event like the one that occurred in 2013, when heavy rains and a melting snowpack sent floodwaters rushing into the city and the region.

The ensuing disaster killed five people, forced 70,000 people to flee their homes and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Brenda Leeds Binder with the Calgary River Community Association says while her group hasn't had a chance to fully digest the in-depth report, they see it as a positive step toward preventing future devastation.

"We've always been of the view that there has to be a sense of urgency around this project because every year that we don't have flood protection is one year closer to the next inevitable flood event," she said.

In the years the project has been under consideration, it's nearly doubled in its expected cost to $432 million. It's been plagued by opposition from some local residents, while being seen as critical by the City of Calgary.

A spokesperson for Alberta Transportation said the government is pleased to see the province is moving ahead with both provincial and federal regulators. 

"Building the [Springbank dry dam] is key to flood mitigation in southern Alberta and to preventing a repeat of the devastating 2013 floods. Alberta Transportation will continue to work diligently to ensure this project crosses the regulatory finish line and can begin construction as soon as possible," the statement read. 

The provincial Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) held an oral pre-hearing on Dec. 2 and has set March 22 as its hearing date on the project, Alberta Transportation said. 

Janet Harvey, with the NRCB, says that hearing is expected to last anywhere from 10 days to three weeks and upon finishing a report will be issued in 80 business days. 

"We just hope to get a full airing of people's concerns on all sides of the project. That's really important," she said. 

The Springbank Community Association believes the reservoir will put affected communities, including Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows, at risk.

Karin Hunter with the association says she feels the report fails to address locals' concerns and that they plan to submit feedback. 

"When you have something that has people concerned about the contamination of their well water, people concerned about fine airborne particulates that might disperse through the community, and when you have people concerned about traffic disruption … that is utterly difficult to accept and comprehend," she said. 

"And, you know, we are just concerned that once again, our community is marginalized, and seems honestly, like, complete and utter apathy from the federal government, the provincial government, and to be honest, Rockyview County, about how this project impacts local residents who surround the reservoir, along with our community as a whole."

The report is open for public comment until Feb. 3, following which a decision will be made by the federal environment minister. 

The province has so far bought about a quarter of the land needed for the project. 

A depiction of where water would go when the proposed Springbank reservoir is in use as a flood-mitigation measure. Highway 22 and Springbank Road would be raised as part of the project so that they are still passable when the reservoir is full. (Alberta Transportation/YouTube screenshot)

With files from Lucie Edwardson


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