The Springbank Off-stream Reservoir Project, which has drawn ire from residents throughout west Rocky View County in the last seven years, has received the seal of approval to move forward by the National Resources Conservation Board (NRCB).
NRCB, an arms-length regulator of the Alberta government, announced its approval of the $430-million project in a press release on June 22. The regulator cited the dry reservoir – commonly referred to as SR-1 – as being in the public interest.
“The board concluded that the project will provide much-needed flood protection to the city of Calgary,” the release stated.
First announced in 2014, SR-1 is a flood mitigation project proposed in response the 2013 flood in southern Alberta, which resulted in five deaths and approximately $5 billion in financial losses and property damage. The dry reservoir would be built on 3,780 acres in Springbank and include a diversion channel to help control Elbow River flow rates in the event of a flood.
During flood events, water would be diverted from the Elbow River into an off-stream reservoir, constructed near Springbank Road and Highway 22, approximately 15 kilometres west of Calgary. Once the risk of flooding subsides, the water in the reservoir would be returned to the Elbow River in a controlled manner. The reservoir, which would activate when water reaches 160 cubic metres per second, is designed to store up to 77.2 million cubic metres of water.
In January, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada released a draft environmental assessment report that concluded the project would not likely cause “significant adverse environmental impacts.”
NRCB’s approval came after an 11-day virtual public hearing in March and April that included presentations from numerous stakeholders, including Alberta Transportation members, area residents, Stoney Nakoda First Nations members and others.
According to NRCB's press release, the project’s approval was based on its social, economic and environmental impacts, according to NRCB’s press release.
“The board found that the project’s considerable positive social and economic effects outweigh any adverse economic, social, and environmental effects,” it stated.
While the Alberta government is in favour of SR-1, the project has garnered plenty of criticism over the years from residents of west RVC, including Springbank, Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows.
Springbank Community Association president Karin Hunter said residents were “disappointed” when they received news on June 22 the project would be moving forward.
“We think the decision shows an utter lack of vision,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s a lost opportunity for Albertans to get something that could have been a positive legacy. We could have had a lake, a provincial park to create jobs and tourism to help diversify our economy [or] an asset that managed our water resources and protected and preserved our water supply in times of flood or drought.
“Instead, we get SR-1, which destroys and sterilizes 4,000 acres of wetlands, native grasslands and other sensitive ecosystems.”
Opposition to SR-1 has largely stemmed from the project’s potential environmental impacts, a lack of transparency and consultation and ballooning costs.
Hunter has previously said the government ignored alternative flood mitigation solutions that have been proposed over the years, including an option at MacLean Creek.
“This project ultimately, in our view, destroys and doesn’t create,” Hunter said. “It will be an ongoing economic, social and ecological liability.
“Was [NRCB’s approval] a rubber stamp? I don’t know, but we don’t think the evidence was considered with the seriousness it deserved.”
Despite her government’s support of the project, the area MLA for Springbank and Bragg Creek, Miranda Rosin, has also voiced opposition to SR-1 over the years. Rosin said the approval from the NRCB was an inevitability.
“I’m not surprised,” she said. ”At least after seven or eight years of fighting and trying to come to answer at least, we have answers now – the fight has unfortunately come to an end.”
Before coming into effect, the NRCB approval for SR-1 requires authorization by an Order in Council by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, according to the press release.
With files from Chelsea Kemp/Cochrane Eagle