Alberta can't risk another flood by delaying Springbank reservoir project, says transportation minister

Alberta's transportation minister says the province is committed to protecting Calgary from another major flood by ensuring the Springbank reservoir project moves forward.

Brian Mason says he's confident federal government will approve flood-mitigation measures

Artist rendering of the off-stream reservoir project at Springbank Road. (Government of Alberta)

Alberta's transportation minister says the province is committed to protecting Calgary from another major flood by ensuring the Springbank reservoir project moves forward.

"We can't be complacent, just because we've had a few years without a major flood doesn't mean that another one may not be around the corner. That's the thing, you can never predict it," Brian Mason told the crowd at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, appealing to those in attendance for their public support of the reservoir.

"We need to get this project built ... We would lose two years if we started over and we can't take that risk. We've made the decision, we've studied the problem, and now we need to get on with the job."

The Springbank off-stream reservoir project is currently before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

If the project moves forward, it will divert water from the Elbow River to an off-stream reservoir to store 70.2 million cubic metres of water — roughly the amount of water that swept through the region in the 2013 flood — that would then be released back into the river in a controlled manner once the danger of flooding has passed.

Mason said the project will require 3,600 acres of farmland to be sold to the province, and that the government will appropriate the land if necessary in order for the reservoir to be completed by 2020.

The reservoir would be located just west of Calgary near Springbank Road, north of the Elbow River and east of Highway 22. 

"We recognize some of those families have been living there for generations. We intend to treat them fairly with proper compensation and with the utmost respect," he said.

"But I believe the greater good is what we have to focus on and need to make sure that this city and all the people who live here are protected from rising flood waters."

The chief of the Tsuut'ina First Nation has spoken out against the project, as have some of the area landowners.

Chief Lee Crowchild has thrown his support behind a rejected proposal to built a permanent reservoir in the McLean Creek area, which Crowchild has said would support not just Calgary, but Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows, and have less environmental impact.

Kevin Littlelight, a spokesperson for Tsuut'ina, said he's disappointed with Mason's comments and reiterated that the Tsuut'ina people strongly oppose the project. 

"It's not about consultation," Littlelight told CBC News. "This is a massive permanent project on our territory ... It affects our soil, it affects our river water, it affects our ground water. The risk is pretty great."

He said the First Nation intends to do everything within their legal rights to prevent it from going forward. 

Mason said he's met with Crowchild, and that the government is prepared to support traditional land use, protect Redwood meadows, share hydrological data and establish a joint committee between the First Nation and Alberta Transportation.

"We are going to continue to work very hard to win the support and trust of the Tsuut'ina people and to keep our lines of communication open with them and I'm confident that in the fullness of time they are going to see the value of this particular project," he said.

With files from Scott Dippel