News / Calgary

Calgary ‘psychologically’ prepared for another flood – physically, not so much

Calgary’s physical defences against flooding will be only marginally better by next spring, but Mayor Naheed Nenshi believes the city is psychologically prepared to deal with another major high-water event, should one occur in 2014.

“Of course, if we had another incident like this, it would be psychologically devastating, but I think we’ve built up human resilience in addition to physical resilience,” Nenshi told Metro in an interview.

“One thing I didn’t talk about much during the flooding – but was always just below the surface of the work that I was doing – was the mental and emotional well being of people,” the mayor added. “One of the reasons I pushed so hard to encourage people to volunteer and to help out neighbours and strangers wasn’t just to get the basements cleaned up more quickly. It was actually so that people who, in the worst period of their lives, when they were feeling so beaten down, would know they live in a community where others care about them.”

Some city councillors raised concerns Monday about just how prepared the city will be in the event of another flood next spring or summer.

While both the city and province have numerous flood-mitigation projects planned, the major ones could take years to complete and Coun. Brian Pincott said there needs to be tangible stop-gap measures in place, such as sandbag stockpiles or materials at the ready to build emergency berms.

“It would be good if we, as a council, we, as a city, could say, ‘Come June next year, these are the extra measures we’re putting in place,’” Pincott said.

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Gord Stewart, the city’s director of flood recovery, said city and provincial officials are working together on such measures and the province is “prepared to provide us resources and funding to do that.”

City manager Owen Tobert noted, however, that the city still has lots of post-flood work to do on projects like riverbank reinforcements and resources are limited.

"We're looking at a profound amount of resilience that needs to be done, and, well, the clock is ticking and we're running out of time,” he said. “But we're doing the best we can."

Nenshi said he was also encouraged about the potential for using existing dams on the Bow River upstream from the city, after a recent meeting with Andre Corbould, who heads up Alberta’s flood recovery task force.

The mayor said Corbould informed him the provincial government is in “active negotiations” with TransAlta about adjusting levels on its Ghost River Dam with more of an eye to flood control than pure power generation and irrigation purposes.

Nenshi said, “What they were suggesting for the Ghost River Dam would have basically mitigated the 2013 event along the Bow."

Wolf Keller, chair of the city’s expert panel on flood mitigation, described the TransAlta dam system as “our greatest and best hope” in terms of managing flows on the Bow River.

"I've told my guys a few times we should just buy the system,” Keller said. “But that's a little bit out there, I think."

More realistically, he said government could compensate TransAlta for lost revenue as a result of repurposing the dam for flood mitigation over power generation.

Tobert said the use of dams on the Bow needs to be considered in the broader picture of all downstream communities, not just Calgary, and not just in terms of dealing with high-water events.

"The long term issue is really a shortage of water in the basin,” he said. “And how do we convert some of these structures from temporary-storage facilities to permanent water storage so we can capture the spring runoff when the glaciers eventually are gone, and we're going to be relying on storing water for continuous supply throughout the rest of the year?”

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