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 Province of Alberta has been operating under a draft wetland policy for the white zone (the lower third of the Province) for the past 20 years since draft policy was created for white zone wetlands and a discussion paper created for green zone wetlands. Many of us have been patiently waiting for a comprehensive policy that addresses all of the wetlands in Alberta, and on September 10, 2013 our wish was granted by Environment Minister Diana McQueen.

The biggest bombshell in the new comprehensive policy is the removal of the no-net loss provisions and philosophy contained within the previous draft policy. The current policy simply does not allow for an increase in wetland area in the province, nor does it address past losses. The removal is essentially an admission of our failure as a Province to even come close to meeting the objectives of no net loss. And, with losses of up to 70% of our white zone (prairie pothole) wetlands in the south, over 300,000 hectares of wetlands in the oil sands and over 90% loss of wetlands in major urban centres, it is hard to argue with trying to continue to giving lip service to the no net loss principles of avoid, minimize and compensate.

A final copy of The 2013 Great Alberta Flood: Actions to Mitigate, Manage and Control Future Floods whitepaper has been released. This document consists of collaborative recommendations made by Canada’s leading water experts. The document has been evolving for over a month thanks to the received feedback from water experts and Albertans. This document was written as a collaborative teamwork to determine the recommended actions that should be taken to strategize for future flooding.

During the creation of this report, two draft versions were posted here with the request for public feedback. The response was excellent, leading to the creation of a separate feedback document titled The 2013 Great Alberta Flood: Actions to Mitigate, Manage and Control Future Floods Feedback Compendium which catelogues the feedback received. 

We’d like to thank everyone who sent in feedback on the draft iteration when it was posed two weeks ago. Additional information about this document will be posted on the Alberta WaterSMART website as it arises.  

If you didn’t get a chance to share your feedback or if you have additional thoughts after reading the final version of the whitepaper please do not hesitate to contact us, and like always please continue to check our news section for updates on what is happening around water in Alberta.

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  pdf 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.