Ever since the devastating flood of June 2013, the City of Calgary has been actively preparing for the next big wave.
The provincial government however, has been questioned on whether they are doing everything in their power to put flood prevention at the top of their priority list.
Frank Frigo, leader of watershed analysis with water resources at the city praised the province for being an excellent partner, but every partnership has its difficulties.
“The problem we’re trying to solve is such a major problem, it affects the whole watershed, so every decision that involves [flooding] of this scale is significant enough that the degree of effort that takes to do the engineering, the economics, the social and environmental factors does take long,” says Frigo.
The Alberta Community Resilience Program (ACRP) started out as a province-wide program, but as of 2015, the province has dedicated $15 million annually to the city, recognizing that its risk profile and flooding issues are more significant compared to the rest of the province.
“I think the province has been very feasible in recognizing Calgary’s unique exposure or that [Calgary] is the largest Canadian city that has this kind of flood risk exposure that we can not downplay any of the risks that exist in other communities of over a million people at the confluence of two mountain rivers,” Frigo says.
The city of Calgary says its internal flood mitigation team has cut out one-third of the risk that was present in 2013.
Frigo explained that that’s about $50 million annual exposure that has been eliminated by stakeholder investments and operational changes including study analyses.
Jason Penner, public affairs officer for Alberta Environment and Recreation, stated in an email that more than $100 million in ACRP grant funding has been approved for priority mitigation projects such as the Springbank Off-stream Reservoir project in the Elbow River.
Although the province is endorsing flood mitigation projects and studies, recent evidence shows that Alberta is not current with certain aspects of their flood prevention plan.
“It’s hard to protect the whole city without leaving a hole, and water will eventually find that hole. It doesn’t matter how because it will get there. ” -Geoff Granville
According to Blair Feltmate of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, Alberta’s flood plain maps remain untouched.
“One area where Alberta is substantially lacking regarding flood preparedness is the degree to which flood plain maps are out of date,” Feltmate says.
A flood plain map, is an area covered by flood water when a major storm hits. By using climate models, the city can reasonably predict how big storms will be, and then use that information to predict the extent of flooding.
Feltmate explained that once Alberta revamps their floodplain maps into a “modern-day” plan, the maps could be used as a guide for where or where not to build and can also ensure that future infrastructure in flood-prone areas is protected.
The province recently scored a C-plus in an insurance-funded study put out by the University of Waterloo about flood readiness. With a failing grade, this shows that the province is not adapting to the increasing rates of climate change.
Alberta’s flood plain maps are not the only factors that need to be improved.
Frigo explained that the city has invested quite a bit of money into their emergency response system even though the city’s response to the “flood of the century” was very commendable.
“It’s everything from forecasting [the flood], to having more materials and more people trained to be able to respond to a flood.”
Specifically for Calgary, the emergency response team has 12 to 24 hours to respond to an incoming flood. Even with infinite resources, there is always a risk in that short of a time frame.
Geoff Granville, the post-flood coordinator for the Erlton Community Association, believes there is no way to prevent the inevitable. He is currently in communication about transitioning to the Victoria Park area.
As the coordinator, Granville is the public eye for those communities for everything flood-related. He responds to acute flood emergencies and then initiates preparedness for future situations.
Granville said preparation is key because flooding cannot be stopped.
“It’s hard to protect the whole city without leaving a hole, and water will eventually find that hole. It doesn’t matter how because it will get there,” he says.
Since 2002, Granville lived in the Erlton area with his wife however, the frustration of dealing with flooding caused them to make the move to a higher-ground condo complex.
Aside from the technicalities, Frigo, from the city, says it’s important for Calgary to represent its planning towards the residents’ needs and wants.
“The city’s been trying to make sure what we’re doing in the way of planning for flood resilience reflects Calgarians’ values,” Frigo, the senior engineer said.
Early next year, the watershed analysis team lead by Frigo will appear before city council with the hopes of eliminating the remaining two-thirds of Calgary’s flood risk profile.