Their names are Lorraine Gerlitz, Dominic Pearce, Amber Rancourt, Jacqui Brocklebank and Robert Nelson.
These are the people who lost their lives in the 2013 southern Alberta flood. In the three years since then, the conversation about flood mitigation seems to focus only on the economic and social impact of mitigation projects. But we must never forget these five people and their families who lost loved ones tragically and suddenly.
And this number could have been a lot higher if it weren’t for the bravery of first responders and simple good luck.
This is why the Springbank dam project is so important.
I want to address the inaccuracies that have been spread by the Don’t Dam Springbank group. Unfortunately, their tactics have a lot in common with those used by opponents to pipeline projects and other infrastructure critical to the economic and social well-being of our province and our country. Albertans are tired of “not-in-my-backyard” arguments against important projects that are in the public interest. That’s the case here.
Multiple studies have shown the Springbank project is superior to McLean Creek. This isn’t political spin, it’s based on objective scientific analysis. The province engaged world-renowned Dutch flood experts Deltares to evaluate the two options using 10 criteria. Springbank was the clear winner in five categories, the two projects were equally effective in five, and McLean Creek was superior in zero categories.
Their analysis included a review of the costs and benefits of both projects, concluding that Springbank is cheaper. They considered the area that will be protected (Springbank protects from the type of floods we had in both 2013 and 2005; McLean Creek only covers a 2013 flood), the risk of catastrophic failure (McLean could fail during construction), the environmental impact (Springbank is built on land used for commercial purposes, McLean is in pristine wilderness), and the likelihood of building the project in a timely manner (Springbank is simpler and faster to build).
Based on this information, the NDP government correctly selected Springbank, as did the PC government before them. This is not a political decision, it is the right decision based on clear, objective evidence.
And the Dutch report isn’t the only one that shows Springbank to be superior. The province has conducted no less than 13 studies on all possible options for the Bow, Elbow and Highwood rivers. Work is largely complete on the Highwood to protect High River. The Springbank project has been independently determined to be the best way to protect downtown Calgary and Elbow River communities, and a working group has been struck to look at options for the Bow River.
Claims that the dry dam will leave a dust bowl whenever it is used are also false. The province has developed an operational plan that includes removing silt after a flood event. The Don’t Dam Springbank group has actually made an argument for the Springbank project: if the dry dam is to be used on average every seven years, as they suggest, without the project, we can expect flood waters to ravage downtown Calgary instead.
The economic and social cost, not to mention the risk to human life, is far higher than the cost to build a simple dry dam.
It’s important to note that only a portion of 23 landowners (which includes only three homes) are represented by Don’t Dam Springbank. The province has already engaged in negotiations with some landowners to acquire their land for fair market value. Where they cannot arrive at an agreement, expropriation laws are there to ensure people are treated fairly.
I sincerely wish there was another way to protect the residents and the billions of dollars of economic activity generated by downtown Calgary from the next flood. But there simply isn’t. Government regularly acquires private property when there’s a broader public interest, and that’s the case here.
Alberta has been frustrated in our efforts to tell our story about the benefits of pipelines to the rest of Canada and the world. Just like pipelines, the benefits of the Springbank dry dam far outweigh the costs, and it does so with the lowest environmental impact.
It’s time to build the Springbank dry dam.