In my opinion, the majority of the 18 recommendations in the 2006 Provincial Flood Mitigation Report would have done very little to prevent the 2013 flood in Calgary. I do agree that it is not prudent to sell crown lands in known flood risk areas.
Unfortunately, the provincial government has sold crown lands in flood prone areas – and the 18 recommendations do not seem to address preventing future floods from happening – especially in the dense urban areas in and around Elbow Park.
It has been estimated that we lost 5.1 million labour hours due to the 2013 flood. Moreover, ~80% of the flood damage to the city of Calgary occurred from the Elbow River – which not only ravaged all of Elbow Park and nearby communities, but also damaged major downtown infrastructure – effectively knocking out the downtown core for over a week.
Early estimates peg the City of Calgary infrastructure costs at $400M+, and damage to the remainder of the city’s households at $5B. Given the magnitude of the flood damage, implementing a long term sustainable Elbow River flood prevention system is not only a community priority – it is a city and provincial priority.
To me, building riverside berms, and dredging out the Elbow River to increase capacity is not a solution – we need to think much bigger.
Politicians don’t have to look very far to see what other cities and towns have done regarding flooding. Winnipeg is a great example with the Red River Floodway. The Red River Floodway is a 47km artificial flood control waterway which takes part of the Red River's flow around the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba to the east and discharges it back into the Red River below the dam at Lockport. It can carry floodwater at a rate of up to 2,550 M3/S (peak flood 2013 flood water flow in Calgary’s Bow River was measured at 1750 M3/S).
The Red River Floodway was built partly in response to the disastrous 1950 Red River flood. Duff Roblin was the Premier who campaigned long and hard for the floodway despite what others at the time felt was a huge and unnecessary expense. Used more than 20 times from its completion in 1968 to present, the Red River Floodway has prevented an estimated $10 billion in cumulative flood damages.
A long term sustainable Elbow River flood prevention solution would be to build a secondary upstream emergency tunnel spillway system that diverts water away from Elbow Park, and the downtown core. As I see it, the most effective way to accomplish this goal would be to build an underground Heritage Drive Tunnel Emergency Spillway beneath Heritage Drive running eastward all the way down to the lower Bow River (downstream from the downtown core) – beginning in the eastern part of the Glenmore Reservoir, and exiting into the Bow River south of Deerfoot Meadows.
At less than 5km in distance, the Heritage Drive Tunnel Emergency Spillway would be able to handle enough water flow to ensure that the riverbanks of Elbow Park are never in jeopardy of overflowing. This spillway would not only safeguard all of the neighborhoods and households below the Glenmore Reservoir, but it would also protect the majority of the downtown core and stampede ground – thus addressing 80% of the damage caused by the flood of 2013.
When it comes to cost, we can look to the Niagara Falls Tunnel (completed in March 2013), which is a 12.7 meter wide tunnel that moves more than 500 M3/S of water from upper Niagara to the Sir Adam Beck generating complex.
At 10.2 km in length, and at a cost of $1B, the Niagara Falls Tunnel is more than twice the length of the proposed Heritage Drive Tunnel Emergency Spillway Tunnel. With this recent comparable, the Heritage Drive Emergency Spillway Tunnel would likely cost around $500M to build.
The threat of future flooding to the safety and economic stability of the city of Calgary is a major concern and must be addressed with haste. With Calgary elections only weeks away, future flood prevention needs to be a major hot button election issue. Simply put, Calgary cannot allow for major flooding to ever happen again and our elected representatives need to implement a flood prevention solution.