Springbank Dam clears major hurdle, leaving residents with uncertain future
CALGARY -- Tracey Feist grew up on the ranch along the southern bank of the Elbow River. Now retired, she drinks water from the same well she did as a little girl.
She lives just a few hundred metres from the proposed dam and diversion structure meant to reduce the power of the Elbow River during future flood events.
If the project goes ahead, she fears her water could change forever.
"I have multiple concerns with he project but the one that affects me greatly on our ranch is our water – our water wells that could be impacted by the construction," Feist says, standing by a small spring-fed creek.
"We’re just going to have to start monitoring to see if there’s any effect from the construction from across the road.”
The project was a direct response to the floods of 2013, which caused more than $5 billion in damage. Another lower cost mitigation option was proposed for McLean Creek, but that was turned down in 2015 by then-Premier Jim Prentice's PC government.
The Springbank plan includes a kilometre-long berm that will retain flood waters, creating a temporary lake up to five metres deep. It will also require raising sections of Highway 22 south of Highway 1 by another five metres.
It will also require the government to force local landowners to sell enough property to build the 1,500-hectare property. In many cases that land has been in the same family since around the 1890's.
"For those families it’s a bitter pill to swallow when they feel that there was a better alternative," says Karin Hunter of the Springbank Community Association, referring to the rejected McLean Creek reservoir plan.
The area is largely uncultivated native prairie grassland Hunter says. Once the reservoir is filled, it will leave a deep layer of silt which will dry up and blow across neighbouring communities.
"This is land in its natural state – this is the most threatened ecosystem in Canada and it will be bulldozed. It will be ruined," says Hunter.
The land is also home to at least two grizzly bears, as well as a large herd of elk.
The project still needs federal approval to move ahead.