elbow flood from balsam bridge
View upriver from the Balsam Ave. bridge in Bragg Creek. Flood of 2005 on the left, 2013 on right showing land washed away in the upper right.

Flood damage

Elbow River 2017

I’m a big believer in science and technology. After living through the devastating impact of the 2013 flood in Bragg Creek, my gut says throw some money at it and remove the risk of future floods. It would be a triumph of man over Mother Nature. The thing was, it was our infrastructure that got pummeled the hardest; bridges, highways and armoured river banks got wrecked. Then there were all the homes and businesses in the flood plain that were damaged or destroyed. Two restaurants and the buildings where they operated are gone forever. In Bragg Creek about an acre of prime riverfront property washed away downstream, some say, because the rocks used to armour the shoreline upstream were carried downstream where they scoured the earth off the bedrock. We almost lost our bridge when a house, ripped off its foundation, floated downstream and crashed into the bridge.

Kevin Van Tighem and Tony Daffern have been all over social media warning of disaster if the government goes ahead with a plan to build dry lakes high in Kananaskis; building dams at McLean Creek or in Springbank to capture and slowly release rain and melting snow before it can damage communities downstream. They say if the dam breaks a wall of water and tonnes of debris will come crashing down on us. I say, we have to do something. Van Tighem says we should rely on a healthy watershed. Sounds like fiddling while Rome burns to me.

mclean creek ohv

This is the McLean Creek OHV area in the Elbow Valley southwest of Bragg Creek.
You can check it here:

Then I thought of the photo of thousands and thousands of dead trees piled along the Boundary Ridge trail and I went back to check the Google Earth satellite view of the McLean Creek OHV area where Spray Lakes Sawmills have been clearcutting for many years. Huge areas of exposed soil replace a healthy forest that played a vital role in producing the water that Calgary relies on while absorbing melting snow and falling rain and releasing it gradually over time. The forest acts like a sponge. When it’s not there water runs downhill into streams and rivers carrying with it sediment, minerals and nutrients which clog waterways, pollute drinking water and foster growth of algae. All of which cause problems for water treatment plants. Trees also act as a canopy, shading the snow on the ground so it takes longer to melt, releasing water later in the spring and summer when we need it more.

There is a lot of “closing the stable door after the horse has left the barn” to this. Vast tracts of the foothills forest have already gone and it will take 100 years to get back to the healthy mature forest like that which remains standing. I know I’ll lose a lot of people when I say what must be said – follow the money. Where did all that rain come from? Climate Change.

Bragg Creek is a beautiful place, offering residents a unique lifestyle. But, I think we’re a lot like the canaries in the coalmine. Many of us have been actively opposed to industrial activity in Kananaskis for many years. Some say it’s just a NIMBY complaint. Maybe so. Chirp, chirp.