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Alberta’s flood-mitigating reservoir moves closer to approval

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Alberta’s $423-million Springbank off-stream reservoir flood mitigation project has been approved by the federal Minister of the Environment, following a greenlight as the first such project to undergo an environmental assessment.

Alberta Transportation is now leading the creation of a diversion channel, debris barrier, dam structures and outlet structures approximately 15 kilometres west of Calgary to prevent and reduce flood damage to the City of Calgary and communities downstream of the project. The infrastructure would be located in a floodplain drainage area of the Elbow River and its tributaries. It would divert flood water during flood events from the Elbow River to a reservoir constructed in adjacent agricultural land and wetlands.

The temporary reservoir can store roughly 70.2 million cubic metres of water, nearly the same amount that killed five people and caused more than $5 billion of damage in Calgary during the flood of 2013. After flooding has subsided, the reservoir will be able to safely return the water back to the Elbow River.

“My decision to approve the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir Project was informed by a robust federal environmental assessment based on sound science and Indigenous knowledge,” announced Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in a statement.

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“The citizens of Alberta know how devastating floods can be on their livelihoods and their families. I am confident the strong legally-binding conditions established for the project will safeguard the environment for years to come, and also ensure Albertans can be protected from future flooding events,” he added.

The Minister’s Decision Statement sets out over 200 legally-binding conditions that Alberta Transportation must comply with throughout the life of the project to protect fish, migratory birds, human health, Indigenous use of land and resources, physical and cultural heritage, as well as species at risk.

For instance, the project must create a fish and fish habitat offsetting plan prior to construction and in consultation with Indigenous groups. The proponent is also required to develop and maintain measures to control erosion and sedimentation, including installing and maintaining sediment fences and turbidity barriers to prevent bank erosion.

Since the project was announced eight years ago, the chief of the Tsuut’ina First Nation and some local landowners have spoken out against the reservoir.

Alberta Transportation can now proceed with obtaining any necessary authorizations from Fisheries and Oceans Canada under the Fisheries Act and Transport Canada under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act.

A second flood mitigation project, the proposed Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin Outlet Channels Project, located in Manitoba, is currently undergoing a federal review under CEAA 2012.

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