Premier Smith ‘open to revisiting’ Springbank dam decision for southern Alberta flooding

Alberta’s premier is “open to revisiting” an approved upstream flood mitigation project designed to protect the province’s largest city.

Saturday morning on “Your Province. Your Premier” on Corus Radio stations, a caller named “Nick” asked Premier Danielle Smith to gauge her openness on revisiting the Springbank Off-stream Reservoir (SR1) approval, recalling her previous commentary as a talk radio host. Corus Entertainment is the parent company of Global News.

“My inclination is to say yes,” Smith said. “If there are a number of different proposals that we can have for Calgary, for southern Alberta, if we need to have some of these other types of approaches in other communities as well, then I’m open to revisiting those.”

Read more: $744M contract awarded for Springbank reservoir west of Calgary

Work began in May on the reservoir designed for flood protection of Calgary and communities along the Elbow River.

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The province’s 2022 budget had $473.6 million earmarked for the three-year build. SR1 is designed to work in tandem with the Glenmore Reservoir to be able to handle the same volume of water that hit Calgary and area in 2013 – 70.2 million cubic metres – that caused $5 billion in damages and five deaths.

On Saturday Smith said she was “frustrated” that in the extended consultation process, recreation, irrigation and hydroelectric power were not part of the final project, calling it a “missed opportunity.”

Instead of being a reservoir that holds and feeds water into the city’s tap water system like Glenmore, Springbank’s structures will divert excess water from the Elbow River into a floodplain that otherwise has naturally-occurring flora and fauna.

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Citing projections that further population growth – “if we keep growing, if we can double our population by 2050” – Smith said securing access to more water would be needed to accommodate that growth.

“We’ve got to solve some of these issues and I’m certainly open to revisiting (SR1),” Smith said.

Read more: ‘In the public interest’: Reservoir to protect Calgary from floods gets NRCB approval

MLA for Calgary-Buffalo Joe Ceci said the upstream flood project is “essential” to protect Calgary.

“It’s grossly irresponsible for the premier of Alberta to speculate about halting such a large and critical project,” the NDP MLA whose riding sits at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers said in a statement.

“It’s absurd to suggest that such a huge and complex project could be sent back to square one almost a decade after a flood that caused $5 billion in damage, five deaths, 29 local emergencies and the evacuation of 80,000 residents,” Ceci said, adding entertaining the idea sends a “strong signal” to Calgarians and downstream communities.

Click to play video: 'Construction begins on Springbank off-stream reservoir project'

Construction begins on Springbank off-stream reservoir project

Monday afternoon, Smith’s press secretary walked back the premier’s comments.

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“The Premier knows that the Springbank Reservoir project is well underway with all the property acquired, teams on site and earth being moved,” Becca Polak said in an email to Global News. “She didn’t mean to suggest that we should halt this vital project.

“She’s looking forward to being briefed on everything that’s gone on and exploring other opportunities for potential hydroelectric projects around the province.”

Click to play video: 'Feds move ahead with Springbank reservoir near Calgary'

Feds move ahead with Springbank reservoir near Calgary

On June 22, 2021, the Natural Resources Conservation Board approved the project, finding it to be in the public interest based on social, economic and environmental effects. That approval came after an 11-day virtual hearing that was live-streamed to the public.

About two weeks after the NRCB approval, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada approved the project, saying it would not likely cause significant adverse environmental effects with conditions in place. Following that approval, the federal government confirmed its $168.5 million in funding.

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In October 2021, the province announced it had secured all of the 3,700 acres of land needed for the project, marking the start of the construction phase.

The province started open houses in Calgary and Cochrane for the project in 2015.

&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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