The Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir (SR1) project has been approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) after finding it to be in the public interest.

The NRCB says the project reduces the risk to public safety, particularly to the City of Calgary, provides significant damage avoidance to private residences, businesses, and public infrastructure, and reduces or eliminates business interruption.

In the executive summary, the board says the project offers significant social benefit to residents that are apprehensive about the risk of future flooding and outweighs the adverse economic, social, and environmental effects.

"In making this decision, the board notes that, while adverse environmental effects exist, the conditions in the approval, together with Alberta Transportation’s commitments, will mitigate any material environmental effects associated with the project," it states.

Key findings include:

  • The project will reduce flood risk to human life, as well as financial losses from damages to residential, commercial, and public buildings and infrastructure, and will reduce both direct and indirect economic losses from the disruption of business.
  •  Alberta Transportation must fulfill specific commitments to advancing consultation with the Stoney Nakoda Nations, including addressing the recommendations made by the Stoney Nakoda in their interim traditional land-use assessment.
  • Consultation and accommodation with the other Indigenous groups have been sufficient. Twelve of 13 Indigenous groups have provided letters of non-objection; continue to consult and seek accommodation with Alberta Transportation outside of the NRCB review process; or decided after consultation with Alberta Transportation that the project does not significantly impact their rights.
  • The project is expected to have generally low to negligible environmental effects. Where environmental effects do have an impact, or where the impacts are uncertain, such as in air quality, aquatic ecology, wildlife, and surface and groundwater, Alberta Transportation’s monitoring and mitigation plans should address the uncertainties.

NRCB conditions of approval are:

The approval requires the Project operator (Alberta Transportation or Alberta Environment and Parks) to implement the commitments made in the project proposal, as well as implement conditions imposed by the board that are mandatory to the NRCB approval.

For example, the operator will be required to:

  • establish a joint land-use advisory committee consisting of members of Indigenous groups and the local community to make recommendations about potential land uses and naming of the project, that may be included in a draft future land-use plan;
  • make project monitoring results related to aquatic ecology, hydrology and sediment transport, surface water quality, groundwater quality and quantity, vegetation, terrain and soils, wildlife and biodiversity, and air quality publicly accessible;
  • monitor water levels in domestic water wells west of the diversion channel to the boundary of the local assessment area that may be impacted by dewatering during construction. During flood and dryland operation, monitoring of the wells should be continued for a minimum of five years or until it can be demonstrated that permanent lowering of the water level does not significantly impact yields from the water wells. The operator is required to take mitigative action if significant yield reductions attributable to the project are observed at the water wells.
  • provide Indigenous groups access to the project development area before construction to harvest traditional use plants and conduct ceremonies, and to conduct pre and post-construction site visits to observed proposed mitigation measures and provide feedback to the operator; and
  • to the satisfaction of Alberta Environment and Parks, conduct air quality monitoring for a minimum of 16 months post-flood at the Calaway Park (when it is open to the public) and Springbank community monitoring stations that are capable of sending automatic alerts when air concentrations exceed designated alert levels.

Besides authorization by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, other approvals required are:

  • The application must also be approved by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada which is conducting an independent environmental assessment of the project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.
  • Alberta Transportation also requires provincial approvals (e.g., Water Act) from Alberta Environment and Parks, including a review and approval from Alberta Dam Safety. It also requires federal approval from Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the Project.
  • The Government of Alberta makes its own determination on the adequacy of Crown consultation with Indigenous Peoples.

The project is intended to work in tandem with the Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary to mitigate damage from flooding up to and including the size of the 2013 flood and will provide a level of protection from floods larger than 2013.

During flood events, water will be diverted from the Elbow River into an off-stream reservoir to be constructed near Springbank Road and Hwy. 22. Once the flood risk subsides, the reservoir water will be returned to the Elbow River in a controlled manner.

The key components of the project include the diversion structure, a 4.7 km long diversion channel, a dry reservoir with a capacity of approximately 78,000,000 m3 and a maximum flooded area of approximately 800 hectares, a dam that stretches 3.3 km in length with a maximum height of 29 m, low-level outlet works, and access roads.

The construction costs are currently estimated to be $340 million, and land acquisition costs are expected to be about $140 million.

The decision follows an 11-day hearing that opened on Mar. 21. The Alberta government made its initial project application on Nov. 2, 2017