Thursday, June 23, 2005


Calgary: the City of the Undammed?

The recent flooding in Alberta was a harsh reminder of how unforgiving Mother Nature can be. It may also be a reminder of how our ever more complex infrastructure is dependent on human know-how and plain, dumb luck. Thousands of Calgarians have been seriously affected by the flooding, which resulted in the first-ever state of emergency being declared in the city. At the same time, the city of Drumheller escaped a similar fate virtually unscathed. In the latter case, much credit was given to a city engineer who used available data to lower the level of the city's reservoir so that the crest of the flood water could be reduced. In addition, an accumulation of debris prevented the flood water in one river from making a bad situation worse. The result of this combination of human know-how and luck was that Drumheller was completely spared any significant flooding.

Calgary of course was not so fortunate. Although there had been heavy rains which had resulted in somewhat higher water levels approximately 7 to 10 days prior to the flooding, I would estimate that had the same strategy been employed in Calgary, the damage would have been considerably less. I live near the Calgary reservoir and do not recall seeing any attempt to lower the water level prior to the flooding. There was also no mention made in the media of such a strategy being attempted. While it's unlikely that flooding could have been avoided altogether, Drumheller's experience demonstrated that judicious lowering of the level of the city's reservoir successfully reduced the height of the flood crest. In Calgary's case, reducing the flood crest by even a few inches would surely have reduced the damage by millions of dollars.

It will be no surprise to me if in the next few weeks lawsuits are filed against Calgary for negligence. Perhaps the Drumheller engineer who so ably saved his city from Calgary's fate should bring his résumé up-to-date just in case there should be an opening for someone of his calibre with the City of Calgary.


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