Calgary

'Do the right dam thing': Tsuut'ina, ranchers ride in protest against Springbank reservoir

Members of the Tsuut'ina First Nation and local ranchers took to horseback Saturday, to voice their continued opposition to the Springbank reservoir with a unity ride along the Elbow River.

The dry dam is intended to protect Calgarians from an event like the catastrophic 2013 flood

Members of the Tsuut'ina First Nation and local ranchers and landowners joined together for a Unity Ride along the Elbow River to protest the Springbank dry dam on Saturday. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Members of the Tsuut'ina First Nation and local ranchers took to horseback Saturday, to voice their continued opposition to the Springbank reservoir with a unity ride along the Elbow River.

The dry dam — which would fill with water from a swollen Elbow River — is intended to protect Calgarians from an event like in 2013, when heavy rains and a melting snowpack sent floodwaters rushing into the city and nearby communities. The ensuing disaster saw 70,000 people flee their homes, killed five and caused billions of dollars of damage.

But those whose families have occupied the land by the reservoir for more than a century say the project is destructive, and would rather see an alternative dam built at McLean Creek.

"It doesn't matter where you're from. Which nation, which community, what your faith is. It doesn't matter. We all have a responsibility to the land and to the water. And that's why I say we have to heal our relationship to the water to begin with, then we can start healing our relationships to the people," said Tsuut'ina Chief Lee Crowchild.

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)

Crowchild said he doesn't feel the government has undertaken enough engagement on the project.

"They've been telling us what the solution is. They've never asked us what do we think the solution should be. So yes, of course they engaged with us, but it's more a point of them telling us what they thought was best for us," Crowchild said.

Riders gathered at Mary Robinson's Moose Hill Ranch for the ride.

"We're here today to ride in unity, as solidarity that we all believe that flood mitigation should be good for everyone. Not just for a small group of people, which is what SR1, the Springbank dam would do," said Robinson, who is a member of the Don't Dam Springbank group.

Robinson, whose family has owned a ranch in the area since 1886, said using the McLean Creek location as a reservoir could provide water for farmers during drought and help fight wildfires.

Mary Robinson is a local landowner and a member of the Don't Dam Springbank group. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

The $432-million project will require 3,600 acres of farmland to be sold to the province. 

Dick Koetsier, who owns about 16 acres of land in Bragg Creek, is also an advocate for the McLean Creek flood storage site project.

He said it's important Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows are protected as well.

"This dam [McLean Creek] would give us some control that, in conjunction with Glenmore, would protect Calgary, would protect Bragg Creek, would save all of these historic farms. Let's do the right dam thing," he said.

But that plan has been rejected by the government. Transportation Minister Brian Mason said it had a much greater environmental impact, a longer timeline for completion and an unacceptably high risk of failure if a high-water event happened during construction.

The province has committed $8.9 million for flood mitigation for Redwood Meadows, and a $33-million flood mitigation project in Bragg Creek is scheduled to get underway in the fall.

Mason's office said the government continues to listen to all perspectives as they move forward with the project.

"The Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir continues to be the best option to protect Calgary and other downstream communities from the risk posed by flooding along the Elbow River. The City of Calgary estimates that nearly $700 million in property damage is at risk along the Elbow River.

"Regardless of the financial and economic impact, another unmitigated flood risks the lives of Albertans, and that is unacceptable," the minister said in an emailed statement.

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

With files from Anis Heydari.

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