By Medicine Hat News Opinon on November 23, 2017.
It is time that Albertans put the cart behind the horse when it comes to preventing major floods in southern Alberta, but unfortunately we’re still arguing about who owns the cart.
More than four years after massive, damaging and widespread floods in the province, berms are mostly in place in Medicine Hat, and other communities are more or less working on local infrastructure.
However, the so called “upstream” projects to manage huge amounts of stormwater in the Alberta Foothills ironically appear to be bogged down.
A proposed new dry dam northwest of Calgary is again being challenged by private landowners this month.
Further south, snowmobilers and ATVers have burned up the internet opposing a plan for a new provincial park that would protect watersheds in the upper branches of the Oldman River system.
Both proposals stem from the realization in 2013 that greater capacity to store and manage water before it swamped major cities was not only needed but probably of the biggest benefit.
However, they’ve fallen into a loop of legal and public challenges about consultation and whether a public good should trump the rights of the individual.
In a nutshell, a dry dam at Springbank would lessen the maximum level of flooding. River levels would be higher than normal for a longer period, but with a lower flood peak, which is what causes the most damage.
Similarly, natural wetlands soak up water from spring thaws and runoff, allowing for a more even runoff throughout the year. With a decade-long moratorium on new water leases in our area, more consistent supply into the South Saskatchewan River system should be welcome by all.
Yet, common sense seems no match against those who argue minor points of personal liberty or that not enough study has been done. It’s hard not to fall into the common argument that government usually gets it wrong and probably has or will again.
To protect Calgary, which saw extensive and expensive damage in its city centre, excessive water would be taken off the Elbow River during flood emergencies and stored behind a new clay berm near Springbank.
The resulting valley could hold seven times more water than the Glenmore Reservoir, and would put water back in the river once levels return to normal.
Other options are to expand a dam in a provincial park — and wading into a more strict approval process — or build a hugely expensive tunnel under Calgary to push flood water downstream for other cities to deal with.
The choice is clear, yet, owners of the 3,600 acres of agricultural land near Springbank dam site say their rights are being trampled.
What’s needed is a compensation plan similar to one in Manitoba, where every few years flood water is diverted onto cropland in order to lower river levels in Winnipeg.
It’s easier to compensate farmers and ranchers for annual losses in flood years rather than risk rebuilding the heart of a major city.
In Alberta though, private landowners, mainly rural ones, bristle at the very idea the government could acquire their land for some other purpose.
Many of the same landowners blow their tops when they hear land can’t be confiscated or conditions imposed when major pipelines are proposed but fall into the same quagmire of challenges on environmental grounds.
Albertans want infrastructure built, ag producers need more stable water supply and we all need a solution to a flood risk that has persisted too long.
Let’s take the long view and get started.
(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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