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article imageCalgary takes on issues of flooding and water security

By Karen Graham     May 16, 2019 in World
Calgary could reach the provincial limit on daily water withdrawals from the Bow and Elbow rivers within less than 20 years, thanks to population growth and climate change, the city said Monday.
The warning was issued after a day-long city council meeting that focused on water security and stormwater management. The strategic session also devoted time to look at the future challenges of ensuring there’s enough water for a growing city and region.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, but by about 2036, we’re going to hit the limit of our water license - particularly on hot days in the summer and the water shortages will only increase from there,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday, according to the Calgary Herald.
“It’s important now that we start making the decisions we have to make around development (and) growth throughout the region (to) make sure that we can accommodate the growth that we expect here over the next decades.”
East Village in Calgary  during the Alberta floods 2013.
East Village in Calgary, during the Alberta floods 2013.
Ryan L. C. Quan (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Right now, Calgary has two looming issues, with one being that continuing population and economic growth in the region will impact water quantity and quality. The second issue is that Wednesday marked the beginning of the two-month period where Calgary is at the highest risk of river flooding, according to The Star.
It’s a time in the city when “the anxiety is measurable,” said Councillor Druh Farrell, who represents many communities devastated by the flood nearly six years ago.
Sandy Davis, the city's flood risk manager said that even though the mountain snowpack that feeds the Bow River basin, which includes the Bow and Elbow Rivers, appeared to be average or a little less so, there is still the risk of intense rainfall, citing the flooding that happened in 2013.
Washed out bridge that spanned the Bow River within the Siksika Nation. Photo taken on June 9  2013.
Washed out bridge that spanned the Bow River within the Siksika Nation. Photo taken on June 9, 2013.
“We have a chance of experiencing that type of flood,” Davis said, pointing out that the terminology “100-year flood” doesn’t mean another severe flood won’t happen for a full century. “Every year, there’s a small chance of that happening. So we stay on our toes.”
Issues with water demand
The city of Calgary provides water to almost one in three Albertans as a provincial water license holder. The water license has taken on great importance now that climate change has become an integral part of the picture.
The council was warned by city staff that on particularly hot days in the summer, it will become increasingly difficult to meet peak water demand in the future. The independent municipal and scientific experts also presented a stark picture of the effect of climate change on water supplies for the region.
The Elbow River (Bottom  center) enters the Bow River in Calgary. Calgary Zoo is on the Island in th...
The Elbow River (Bottom, center) enters the Bow River in Calgary. Calgary Zoo is on the Island in the middle of the picture.
Dr. David Sauchyn, director of the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative, cited data that shows annual flow rates of the Bow River are already on the decline, despite seasonal variations.
“The reason the river is declining slowly is the loss of the glacier ice and snowpack at high elevation,” Sauchyn said. “Calgary actually has been able to deal with this gradually declining water supply (but) it’s not going to last forever — fairly soon the glaciers won’t exist anymore.”
Added to a future with declining water supply, the short term impact of climate change will " likely involve intermittent periods of severe flooding," Sauchyn said.
Stormwater management
Many people would not think of stormwater management as being an impact of climate change, but it is. The concern over stormwater runoff flowing into the Bow and Elbow rivers and polluting the water - eventually impacting downstream water users - is very real.
“When we are deciding how many new neighborhoods we are going to approve, we don’t really think about them in terms of water and we particularly don’t think about them in terms of stormwater,” Nenshi said.
“How do we do the drainage? How do we avoid flooding?” It is going to take some tough discussions and, in the end, even tougher decisions will have to be made.
All the different scenarios presented to the council will be used by the city to come back with a report on short-term recommendations on a water security strategy by the end of the year.
More about calgary Alberta, water security, floodwater, Climate change, Bow and Elbow rivers
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