Cochrane residents gather as province seeks input on flood mitigation

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A briefing on a possible reservoir east of Cochrane on Saturday afternoon drew a heated crowd who feared the dam would flood the area and cause ecological damage in two provincial parks.

The session, hosted by the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation, invited government officials responsible for the project to explain the options they were exploring and the factors behind those decisions.

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The project was launched in 2017 when the province began evaluating the location of a reservoir to prevent severe flooding and conserve water during droughts.

After a feasibility study and a series of consultations with landowners in several locations in 2021, authorities selected three proposals: a new reservoir between Cochrane and Bearspaw Dam (called the Glenblow East option); expanding Ghost Reservoir west of the city; and a new dam at Morley on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, which is not part of the current public consultation. Peter Bezeau, director of Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas, said the province is working with the Indigenous community and hasn’t made much progress in the engagement process.

Jeromy Farkas, executive director of the park foundation, said Glenbow East could flood swaths of Cochrane, engulf traffic stops and devastate the region’s ecology. Instead, Farkas favors expanding the Ghost Dam. Although the capacity of the latter will be three-quarters that of Glenbow East, it will be almost four times as deep and, as a result, will lose less water to evaporation, he added.

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Farkas also previously pointed to a 2020 conceptual assessment commissioned by Alberta Environment and Protected Places that found a dam berm for the Glenbow East option would cut through Haskayne Legacy Park’s pavilion building and could flood its western end.

“The argument we’re making is that there are alternatives to going through the Cochrane Greenbelt to Calgary,” Farkas said.

“It’s not about fighting a dam; it’s about advocating for (the best) solutions.”

The public and government have invested nearly $100 million in the two parks, “not to mention all the time and volunteer hours, and for a government decision to raze them in an instant would be terrible,” Farkas said.

Jeromy Farkas
Jeromy Farkas, executive director of the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation, speaks during a flood mitigation forum hosted at the Frank Wills Community Hall in Cochrane, Alta., on Saturday, May 4, 2024. Photo by Brent Calver /postmedia

In the 2020 assessment, the estimated cost for Glenbow East would be $992 million, with the Ghost Dam and Morley options at $917 million and $922 million. But Morley’s price does not include land swaps or other potential compensation.

While the report says all possibilities would cause some environmental effects, it concludes that those affected by Glenbow East would be the most pronounced.

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“No environmental differentiators were identified along the entire study corridor, except for impacts on the existing Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, on the Glenbow reach of the river,” he says.

At least 14 homes, he said, would be inundated by the reservoir created by the dam, while “wildlife corridors on both sides of the river would be affected.”

But the report also says the downstream effectiveness of Glenbow East would be “very good” compared to “good” for Ghost Dam and “fair” for Morley.

Officials said Saturday that the province has entered the next stage of the feedback process, which includes a hydrological study and selecting a reservoir location.

The province says it will announce a decision on the Bow River options early next year and insists it does not favor any.

A spokesperson for Environment and Protected Places Minister Rebecca Schulz’s office said that over the past three years public consultation has been extensive.

“Engagement conducted between 2021 and 2023 included live virtual sessions, in-person meetings with landowners, online webinars, and dozens of meetings with stakeholder groups, including the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation,” Ryan Fournier said in an email.

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But defenders say otherwise. The province is currently seeking public input through an online form that many residents and citizens criticized Saturday for being difficult to access and fill out. Previously, the deadline for comments was May 6, but the province extended the deadline by an additional week at the request of the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation.

Farkas said many residents he spoke to were unaware of the project and its implications until recently. The officials’ presentations on Saturday were marked by comments from residents about the government’s lack of consultation with other groups of people who were not property owners.

Farkas said his organization has delivered 15,000 postcards in Cochrane so far, adding that the foundation will host two more events in Calgary and Rockyview County next week.

“Our goal is to send mail to every Calgary household to inform them about this issue because it is not just a Cochrane issue. “This is a southern Alberta problem and we must support the government to get it right.”

With files from Bill Kaufmann

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
The Bow River is seen from Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Photo by Steven Wilhelm /postmedia

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