‘It’s devastating:’ Alberta landowners face loss of properties to prevent flood

Mary Robinson is taking it personally.

SPRINGBANK — Mary Robinson is taking it personally.

Her family has been living on Moose Hill Ranch on the edge of the Elbow River since 1888 — when Alberta was still the Northwest Territories and only four years after Calgary was incorporated as a town with a population of 506.

The rolling grasslands and hay fields of the ranch now feature a sprawling log home and an equestrian centre, where countless young people have saddled up for the first time and learned to ride.

It could all be underwater if the Alberta government goes ahead with a plan to build the off-stream Springbank reservoir.

“It’s devastating. It really is, especially at our stage of life where you think you have your life planned and you’ve done all of this for years and generations,” Robinson says.

“My kids are fifth generation here and it’s devastating that you think all of this will be ripped from us. It’s homes, families, heritage and businesses.”

Moose Hill Ranch is a possible casualty after the fact of heavy flooding that hit southern Alberta three years ago.

As much as 350 millimetres of rain fell over two days across the eastern slopes of the Rockies and a snowpack that had yet to melt. There was nowhere for all the water to go and the resulting deluge wiped out roads and bridges and swamped streets, homes and vehicles across southern Alberta.

Five people were killed and the damage estimate ran into the billions, making it one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history. In Calgary, where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet, more than 70,000 people were forced to flee for higher ground. Thousands of homes and businesses were damaged.

After the disaster, the Alberta government came up with a bevy of mitigation measures to prevent similar damage in another flood.

The Springbank reservoir plan would see gates upstream of Calgary divert water during flooding from the Elbow into a canal that leads to surrounding land. The water would be channelled back into the Elbow when a flood subsided.

In the 2015 election, the NDP campaigned on an alternate plan for a dry dam at the confluence of McLean Creek and the Elbow River. But once in office the government changed its mind and announced it was proceeding with Springbank.

An environmental impact study has been ordered. Landowners will be compensated if the plan goes ahead, but they say the government will determine the price.

“When we took office as a government, the environment minister consulted the best advice you can get with respect to this,” says Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason.

He says Springbank is less expensive, would have less environmental impact and can be done quicker.

“McLean Creek could potentially damage the spawning grounds of the bull trout, for example, which is Alberta’s official fish,” he says. “It was clear that Springbank was the better alternative on almost every count.”

Lee Drewry, whose wife’s great-grandfather was one of the original settlers in the area, says he doesn’t think the government understands what it is taking away.

“I don’t think they quite get the family history and ancestry,” he says. “That’s a consistent story with a lot of the landowners out here. It’s just bad public policy.”

Drewry’s family property is at the north end of the proposed reservoir. He says about two dozen families will be affected if the reservoir goes ahead.

“We think the project should be on government land that the government already owns. It doesn’t have to take land from other Albertans.”

Robinson laments the loss of all that history as well. She proudly points to a saddle on an upstairs rail that her father used in the first Calgary Stampede.

“I was raised in a one-room log cabin down there,” she says, pointing outside.

“We’ve done a lot in our lives to struggle and keep this land. It’s rather unbelievable that someone can just come and take it from you.

“According to the plan, they will come right through here and take all of this. One of the maps shows it’s out in the middle of the front field over there,” she says, pointing out her kitchen window.

“They will take all of this.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Council approved a $3 million grant and a $19 million loan Tuesday to help keep Westerner Park sustainable. (Advocate file photo)
Red Deer city council approves $22M to keep Westerner Park viable after emotional debate

It’s vital ensure future success for the huge economic generator, says mayor

Red Deer Rebels goalie Chase Coward tries to find a loose puck during WHL action at the Centrium earlier this season. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Changes on the horizon for Red Deer Rebels next season

New coach, roster adjustments among top priorities for Sutter this offseason

Renovations and construction have begun at Red Deer Dream Centre. (Photo contributed)
Renovations underway at Red Deer Dream Centre

Christian-based addictions treatment centre

Red Deer County's municipal planning commission gave approval for a new directional sign for a business located near Elnora.
(Image from Red Deer County)
Red Deer County garden centre and winery gets sign approved

Delidais Estate Winery and DA Gardens is located near Elnora

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Here is a list of latest COVID-19 restrictions in effect in Alberta

New mandatory health restrictions are now in effect in Alberta. Additional restrictions… Continue reading

This undated photo provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows a group of bighorn sheep in North Dakota. Alberta's environment department has known for years that toxins from old coal mines are contaminating populations of the province's official animal, the bighorn sheep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Bihrle/North Dakota Game and Fish Department via AP, File
Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium: scientist

Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium: scientist

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Trudeau is rejecting accusations from Alberta’s justice minister that his federal government is part of a trio rooting for that province’s health system to collapse due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau rejects Alberta cabinet minister accusation PM wants COVID-19 health disaster

Trudeau rejects Alberta cabinet minister accusation PM wants COVID-19 health disaster

Mourners organize a memorial, Monday, May 10, 2021, outside a mobile home in Colorado Springs, Colo., where a shooting at a party took place a day earlier that killed six people before the gunman took his own life. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)
Police: Man killed 6, self after he wasn’t invited to party

Police: Man killed 6, self after he wasn’t invited to party

Colonial Pipeline joue un rôle de premier plan dans le transport de l'essence, du kérosène, du diésel et d'autres produits pétroliers du Texas vers la côte Est.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Gas stations report shortages as pipeline shutdown drags on

Gas stations report shortages as pipeline shutdown drags on

A taxi drives past the charred remains of a car that was burned during clashes between Indigenous people from Cauca state who arrived to support the national strike, with local residents who do not support the blocking of roads in Cali, Colombia, Monday, May 10, 2021. Colombians have protested across the country against a government they feel has long ignored their needs, allowed corruption to run rampant and is so out of touch that it proposed tax increases during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Andres Gonzalez)
42 killed in Colombia protests, human rights agency says

42 killed in Colombia protests, human rights agency says

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill, on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
All parties in the Commons give approval in principle to pandemic election bill

All parties in the Commons give approval in principle to pandemic election bill

Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan of the Canadian Armed Forces joins soldiers during a lunch with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont. on Monday, July 15, 2019. A parliamentary committee will hear this morning from Carigan,  who was recently tapped to lead the military's efforts to change its culture.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Military police chief defends independence; Vance allegedly said he ‘owned’ force

Military police chief defends independence; Vance allegedly said he ‘owned’ force

In this Thursday, May 14, 2020 photo, a doctor holds his stethoscope during a patient visit in Blackburn, England, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Doctors in British Columbia are being warned they could face investigation or penalties from their regulatory body if they contradict public health orders or guidance about COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Hannah McKay/Pool Photo via AP
B.C. doctors could face penalty for veering from COVID-19 health guidelines: college

B.C. doctors could face penalty for veering from COVID-19 health guidelines: college

Most Read