The Bog

The Bog is where thoughts, opinions, discussion pieces, and action converge. Influential thinkers from the water community are invited to share their insights on current or controversial water topics. Please note that the views expressed herein are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta WaterPortal.

The 2013 flood of the Bow River basin has triggered a long-overdue conversation about the natural and man-made factors that caused or contributed to these types of events. Across society, people are now asking pointed questions that relate to mitigation, prevention, headwater management, overlapping landuses, floodplain infrastructure, climate change, and flood proofing.

The WaterSMART White Paper provides an excellent broad overview of the complexity of this watershed issue and makes clear that integrated solutions are required to meaningfully address this challenge. Appropriately, the WaterSMART report identifies that both engineering and landscape management approaches are required if watershed integrity of the Bow River basin is to be conserved and risk to infrastructure is to managed at an acceptable level.

As a resident of the Sunnyside community in Calgary, our neighborhood was extensively flooded and most families experienced serious damage to their basements, and in some cases, structural damage to their homes. In comparison to the residents of lower Benchlands, High River, and many other communities, we escaped relatively unscathed. In the aftermath of these events, we are told that those who have experienced flooding are expected to go through the emotions of anger, denial, depression and acceptance. For most affected by the flood, there is a basic need to understand what happened and what factors contributed to an event that so forcefully changed our lives. Over the next several months, more information will certainly come forward to help residents better understand the weather, landscape, and landuse dynamics that shaped this massive event, but a few thoughts are respectfully offered below to help put some of these dynamics into context.

The following is an open letter addressed to the citizens of Alberta, from Bill Wahl of Medicine Hat. The letter expresses how Mr. Wahl has been affected by floods, but also points out how water in Alberta is being managed and areas for improvement. Have a read and please continue to share your thoughts with us through FacebookTwitter or Email. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Wahl!

An open letter to the Citizens of Alberta

Flood Recovery and/or Flood Prevention


My name is Bill Wahl and I am frustrated!!

Like others in Medicine Hat and Southern Alberta we live in proximity of the South Saskatchewan River [have for 40 years] and have been affected by flooding, all-be-it not this year due to the installation of a high tech backflow preventer after the 1995 flood. We are thankful to family and friends who helped us move out of our home and for better preparedness of disaster services.

The main reason for my frustration is that I always thought that the dams on the tributaries of the South Saskatchewan River were there in part to help us out during times of impending floods. The Alberta Government meetings after the ’95 flood reported that flooding was caused by a severe precipitation event that occurred in very close proximity to the Oldman River Dam. That and a combination of technical issues caused by washed out flow sensors, telephone communications and the short time from onset of precipitation to significant increases in inflow did not give dam operators sufficient time to spill water ahead of high water entering the dam. Although dam safety was never an issue, water was released from the dam at a rate no greater then inflow.  So what happened this year?  According to records obtained from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the 2013 peak was ~5590 cm3/s and the 1995 peak was ~4200 cm3/s. The gauging station reports of the 2013 peak was more than 1m higher than 1995.  The cross section of the river valley at other locations will affect this value to some extent. Levels in Medicine Hat never reached those predicted with an increase of 50 cm3/s increase in flow rate over 1995 reported.  Persons who experienced the 1995 levels commented on water levels about 20 cm higher; all this being enough to cause significantly damage in Medicine Hat. How is it that the dam[s] that impact our flow rate could not have done more to mitigate flood issues this year given the knowledge gained from the ’95 flood, and  new technologies for weather forecasting? We have experienced more floods in the past 20 years than the first 20 years of living by the river.

The following is a speech given by Don Barnett to the Inland Waters Directorate of Environment Canada in 1976. Don Barnett was mayor of Rapid City, South Dakota during one of the worst floods in South Dakota's history and at the time of this speech one of the worst floods in U.S. history. 

We hope that the speech below will stir some thoughts from you, our readers, on how to mitigate floods in the future in Southern Alberta. 

The rain may have stopped, but flooding in Alberta is not over. We're continuing the conversation on the Alberta WaterPortal and wanting to hear what you think. The below excerpt outlines five actions that were recently developed by leading Canadian water experts, to address future flood mitigation. What are your ideas? Join the conversation on FacebookTwitter or email us


Southern Alberta has just experienced the worst flooding disaster in the province’s history. At the Canadian Water Summit, held on June 27, 2013 in Calgary, a group of leading water experts were asked the question: “What can we do to mitigate these flood situations in the future?" These experts put forth five actions that all levels of government should consider today to avoid the impacts of similar flood events in the future. 


  1. Anticipate more extreme weather events and plan for them.  
  2. Improve our operational predictive capacity through better modeling and data management. 
  3. Invest in infrastructure such as on and off stream storage, diversions, and natural storage such as wetlands. 
  4. Consider flood risks in municipal planning, including building in flood plains, and better engineering of electrical, mechanical and back-up systems.
  5. Manage our water resources collaboratively, following the example of the Bow River Consortium, and ensure proper funding for the watershed planning and advisory councils across the Province.

Above all, leadership is vital.  The intention is to have these recommendations reviewed and expanded on by a broad audience, and then presented to all levels of government for their consideration. 


The Alberta WaterPortal is the vehicle for collecting input broadly, and for generating the dialogue that will shape these recommendations into significant action plans. Now, it's your turn. Share your ideas with us through FacebookTwitter or email us

Republished with permission of the publisher from the April 2013 PEG magazine.  You can view original article by clicking here (2.42 MB)

Ten years in, Alberta’s innovation Water for Life strategy has created successful approaches while balancing often competing interests. But will it be enough for the coming decades? Albertans close to the system that links stewards and water councils to province-wide goals weigh in on its successes, its challenges and its shortfalls.

By Bill Corbett
Freelance Writer

Growing up in southeast Alberta, Lorne Taylor, PHD, would tour the family ranch and see  cattle dugouts drying up during periods of drought. At such times, Medicine Hat residents on one side of the street could water their gardens one day, those on the other side the next. If Dr. Taylor’s mother mistakenly watered on the wrong day, there came a reminding knock on the door from a neighbour.

“I grew up with an appreciation for the value of water,” he says. So when Dr. Taylor became Alberta’s environment minister in 2001, crafting a long-term strategy for managing and safeguarding the province’s water resources quickly became a priority. But first he wanted input from ranchers, environmentalists and industry officials — “real people, not just academics. I wanted it driven from the community up, not from the government down. If you’re going to do that properly, if you truly want to listen, it takes time.”

Guided by this stakeholder input, the province’s Water for Life strategy was unveiled in 2003. It was, and still is, intended to achieve three main goals, which are 

  • safe, secure drinking water
  • healthy aquatic ecosystems
  • reliable, quality water supplies for a sustainable economy.

Dr. Taylor, who retired from elected provincial office in 2004, summarizes the goals this way: they’re about meeting the water needs of people, the environment and the economy.  

“Water for Life” was heralded as one of the first strategies of its kind to take a comprehensive, holistic and watershed-based approach to looking at water, to engage citizens and to do all this proactively,” says Andy Ridge, directory of the water policy division of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Most other leaders were in place like Australia or Nevada, with no water. To do this without a water crisis was kind of unique.