Water expert astonished by proposed location of CalgaryNEXT along Bow River
COLETTE DERWORIZ, CALGARY HERALD
More from Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald
One of Canada’s leading water experts is questioning the wisdom of building a multimillion-dollar sports complex on the edge of the Bow River.
Last week, the Calgary Flames organization kicked off its $890-million plan for CalgaryNEXT — a new hockey arena, covered football stadium and multi-sport fieldhouse on the west side of downtown.
John Pomeroy, a hydrology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, said he’s shocked by the proposed location.
“The only thing that should be happening in the floodplains in Calgary in terms of development is the development of green spaces,” he said in an interview. “It’s astonishing two years after the flood.”
In June 2013, massive flooding swept through southern Alberta after up to 270 millimetres of rain fell on top of an above-average snowpack. It turned creeks into raging rivers and left a swath of damage in its path.
The Saddledome, situated along the Elbow River, was under three metres of water, ruining everything below Row 8 of the lower bowl.
Calgary Flames president Ken King dismissed the risk last week when he was asked about the new area being built in a floodplain, suggesting it’s out of the flood zone.
“The preliminary research on it would say it’s out of the floodplain,” he reiterated in an interview Friday. “In 2013, it flooded across the river.”
Still, a 2012 city study suggests the area could flood in an event larger than the one seen in 2013.
Pomeroy and others say it’s a question of when — not if — the proposed location along the Bow River will flood, and there could be major consequences.
“We saw it with the Saddledome,” said Pomeroy. “There will be extremely extensive damage to the facility, and we have to remember that the flood in Calgary was not even a one-in-50 year event, and so there’s a likelihood of another flood that size or larger occurring over the lifetime of the building.
“The other thing is we’re building for the future now and we’re entering a period of climate extremes, including extreme flooding, so it’s not reasonable to assume that things will not be any worse than the past.”
Kim Sturgess, chief executive of Alberta WaterSmart, said she’s torn on the CalgaryNEXT proposal as a Flames season ticket holder.
“It’s a tough call,” she said. “I certainly understand the need to have downtown development.”
However, as an engineer and founder of the non-profit organization committed to the management of Alberta’s water resources, she said it’s essential to allow enough room for the river to flow in as natural a way as it can.
“In general, it’s important for the city to be thoughtful about where permits for new kinds of facilities are being issued and taking into account where the buildings are located,” said Sturgess, noting she and her team haven’t examined the proposed development in detail.
“For this particular location, some folks have put some thought into it, but it’s important to make sure that the location and the potential for the river to move is taken into account in the design of the building.”
Sturgess, whose firm recently released a report on making room for the river, agreed future floods will affect the area.
“There are still active discussions on mitigation, and hopefully there are still plans for that,” she said. “In any case, it’s important that anybody designing a structure like this in proximity to the river needs to take into account how it is built and take into account those risks of potentially having a water incident.
“There will be an event. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”
Ultimately, Sturgess said, it will be a question of how much risk the Flames organization is willing to take on.
“Life is about taking risks,” she said. “You’ve just got to account for that and be prepared for it.
“There’s a much better understanding now, since 2013, that the risk exists and that it’s important to take that into account in your plans.”
King acknowledged they are considering potential flooding as part of the building’s design, noting that the location is “far less problematic than where we are now, but nothing is immune.”