Bow River Basin

The flood mitigation projects listed below will help keep flood-prone communities safe.

Modified Operations Agreement with TransAlta

The Alberta government is committed to ensuring our province is prepared for the potential of future flooding and drought. Leveraging existing TransAlta infrastructure is an effective option to help protect communities along the Bow River.

Terms of the Agreement

  • Five-year agreement beginning in May 2016
  • Modified operations period at Ghost Reservoir is from May 16 to July 7, primarily for flood mitigation purposes
  • Year-round modified operations at Barrier Lake, Upper Kananaskis Lake, and Lower Kananaskis Lake, primarily for drought mitigation purposes
  • Compensation paid to TransAlta is $5.5 million per year

Frequently Asked Questions

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Agreement Information, Compensation, and Consultation

Why is the government paying TransAlta to modify operations at some of their facilities?

As per the agreement, reservoir levels at four TransAlta facilities will now be set by the province based on flood or drought mitigation needs. Compensation paid to TransAlta is intended to offset the estimated commercial loss TransAlta will incur due to modified operations at the four facilities included in the agreement. These reservoirs are designed to produce electricity. The lower the water level, the less electricity TransAlta is able to produce.

Compensation under the new agreement is much more than was paid last year. Why is that?

In addition to the use of Ghost Reservoir, the new agreement includes three reservoirs in TransAlta’s Kananaskis system. The new agreement provides more flood storage capacity, greater flexibility, and the ability to use upstream water supplies to supplement the Bow River’s flows during low flow periods.

How does the agreement with TransAlta relate to the mandate of the Bow River Working Group?

The Bow River Working Group, jointly chaired by the province and the City of Calgary, is assessing flood and drought mitigation options for the Bow River from the Banff National Park boundary through to Medicine Hat. This includes a combination of new structural projects and modified operations at TransAlta facilities. Because of the amount of storage required to meet flood and drought mitigation goals, the use of TransAlta infrastructure will almost certainly be a significant part of the final mitigation solution for the Bow River.

Will you compensate landowners and businesses around Ghost Reservoir for the impacts caused by lower water levels at Ghost Reservoir?

Lower water levels at Ghost Reservoir during the period of this agreement are still within the operating limits of TransAlta’s water licence. Government will undertake an assessment of water supply issues in the Summer Village of Ghost Lake and work with area residents and businesses to find solutions to issues associated with lower water levels. Possible solutions may include things like installing a temporary water supply for the summer village or extending boat launches.

The land values for Ghost Lake Village residents have been affected significantly. Taxes have not decreased but in fact increased over the last few years. Why has there been no compensation or lowering of taxes for the residents? When residents in other areas have been compensated for flood mitigation issues why are Ghost Lake Village residents also not compensated?

Residents are reminded that Ghost Lake Reservoir is a ‘reservoir’ and will fluctuate over a broad range of elevations. This year’s elevations during May were not unprecedented and closer to historical norms.

Issues regarding municipal taxes should be discussed with the municipality. The province has not compensated other residents near flood mitigation projects. Some flood mitigation projects have a land acquisition requirement in order to proceed. Acquiring land to build a project is not the same as compensating residents for minor impacts.

A rural rancher expressed frustration and concerns about her cattle, additional fencing requirements, and access to water from the lake. Will the government provide funding for fencing and other means for watering the cattle?

Residents are reminded that Ghost Lake Reservoir is a ‘reservoir’ and will fluctuate over a broad range of elevations. As mentioned earlier, this year’s elevations during May were not unprecedented and closer to historical norms.

Did you consult with impacted residents?

Yes, we met with impacted residents, business owners, recreational users, and other key stakeholders over the last year to explain the agreement and to identify and discuss issues related to low water levels at Ghost Reservoir. We have held numerous engagement sessions during this year’s modified operations period and will continue to provide information to stakeholder groups through the life of the agreement.

It appears that the Marina has not been consulted and compensated for loss of revenue. When will government consult and provide some compensation for this year, last year, and the next few years?

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) met with impacted residents, business owners, recreational users, and other key stakeholders over the last year to identify and address issues related to low water levels at Ghost Reservoir. The department will continue to provide information throughout the term of the agreement with TransAlta.

Meetings before the lakes are lowered and ongoing assessments and communication through the winter with all stakeholders would be preferable. Any plans to implement earlier meetings next year?

AEP will continue to inform and provide updated information to stakeholders throughout the life of the agreement.

Flood Storage

How much flood storage is provided through the new agreement with TransAlta?

Up to 65 million cubic metres of storage will be available at Ghost Reservoir for flood mitigation purposes. Approximately 10 million cubic metres may be available at the Kananaskis-area reservoirs further upstream for drought mitigation. The amount of storage available will vary each year based on prevailing conditions.

Residents around Ghost Reservoir claim the storage available wouldn’t prevent flooding in the event of another 2013-level flood, so why bother lowering the reservoir at all?

65 million cubic metres is a significant amount of storage. While it’s true that this would not prevent flooding if we experienced an exact repeat of the 2013 event, it would effectively mitigate smaller floods like the one Calgary experienced in 2005 and provide benefits to communities downstream, as well. The 2013 flood was a rare event and there is tremendous value in mitigation projects that can prevent smaller floods, which are much more common.

Flood storage at Ghost Reservoir provides peak flow attenuation, but just as importantly, it also delays peak flows downstream. This is critical when evacuating major population centers.

What other opportunities are there to store water in southern Alberta?

Recent grant approvals through the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program will see over 500 hectares of wetlands created or restored, mostly in southern Alberta. Wetlands are very effective for improving both flood and drought resiliency.

What are the implications for Calgary and other Bow River Communities?

The ability to regulate high flows on the Bow River will help reduce the impact of major floods and eliminate smaller floods in communities along the watershed, including Calgary. During times of drought, water stored in upstream reservoirs can be released into the Bow River for use in irrigation, thereby helping to protect valuable crops.

Wells and Water Supply

What steps has the province taken to resolve the issues some residents near Ghost Reservoir are having with their wells?

The department will commission a study on the groundwater characteristics in the Summer Village and how wells may be impacted at different reservoir elevations. This study will begin this summer. To date, AEP has not been made aware of any issues with domestic water wells within the village that require supplemental water supply. Last year a total of four wells were affected and the department provided a temporary water supply to those residents until their wells were restored. If required, we will do the same this year.

Although there apparently have been no complaints about dry wells from the west end of Ghost Lake Village, why has nobody actually contacted the owners who had problems last year? What is your plan to follow up on this concern?

AEP is currently working with the village administration to ensure that water short residents will be supplied with water similar to last year. This involved trucking and piping water to affected residents as required. AEP will be working directly with the village administration on this issue. Residents are encouraged to talk to their administration office and provide them with a status of their well problem (location, date the well went dry, etc.) as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made.

When will the aquifer study for Ghost Lake Village begin, and why not do it when the lake is low to get an idea of the impact of this flood mitigation plan? Also, would it not be better to do two studies to get an accurate assessment of flood mitigation impacts?

AEP is putting together a contract to do an assessment of the groundwater characteristics and overall water supply in the Ghost Lake Village area. This work will begin in the next few weeks and can be completed at any reservoir elevation. Initial results will be available later this year. This study will provide a scientific basis for determining impacts to water wells related to reservoir elevation.

Will the aquifer study include actual studies of all the residents’ wells? Changes in water quality and pressure were noted last year in many of the resident wells. There has been no contact with the residents to ask if there are concerns again this year. Why not? How will this change?

Individual wells do not need to be studied. This is a study of groundwater characteristics in the area. The study will use existing information for licensed wells within the Ghost Lake Village as an input.

AEP is working with the village administration to ensure that water-short residents will be supplied with water similar to last year. This involved trucking and piping water to affected residents as required. Residents are encouraged to talk to their administration office and provide them with a status of their well problem (location, date the well went dry etc.) as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made. At this time, the department has not received any reports of water well issues from the village.

What happens if residents in the summer village have repeated issues with their wells? What will the government do to assist covering costs for drilling another well?

We have not heard of any well issues in Ghost Lake Village so far in 2016. If there are unreported issues we would like to know about them as soon as possible. Residents should contact village administration if they are having issues with their wells.

AEP will determine if a long-term solution is required to address potential well issues due to a change in reservoir elevations once the results of the study are available.

A rural resident (outside of Ghost Lake Village) stated her wells were severely impacted. When will this issue be addressed?

The study will provide department officials with information on the general groundwater characteristics around the reservoir and allow a more informed discussion with residents outside of Ghost Lake Village who claim their wells are affected by reservoir levels. AEP is working directly with this resident to assess her concerns.

What about the wells of other neighbours in the area including the Stoney Nakoda First Nation? Have they been impacted as well? Have there been direct meetings with the residents in these all areas?

To date, AEP has not received any additional concerns regarding wells.

This is looking like a dry year. How will you manage these reservoirs differently if we are facing drought conditions?

Major floods are rare, but they are difficult to predict and their impacts can be devastating. Water levels at TransAlta reservoirs included in this agreement will fluctuate during the modified operations period to reflect ongoing risk assessments for both flood and drought.

The new agreement with TransAlta includes the Kananaskis sub-basin, which provides the province with potentially more storage options to supplement flows in the Bow River during dry years. This is a key element in adapting to weather extremes brought on by climate change.

Initial reservoir target elevations prior to each operating season will be based on the provincial Water Supply Outlook, snowpack and soil moisture conditions, and prevailing weather patterns. In wet cycles, reservoir levels will be kept lower to facilitate potential flood storage. During dry cycles, target elevations will be kept higher to offset potential water shortage conditions later in the season, but still allow the reservoir to be lowered up to five days prior to a flood event. Seasonal operational targets will be posted under Forecaster’s Comments at:

With the drought and low snow pack this year, why are we not conserving water at the moment? How will the lakes be filled when there is no water upstream to come into all affected areas? Why is there not planning for drought rather than floods? When will the government realize that drought is a huge issue right now?

Major floods are rare, but they are difficult to predict and their impacts can be devastating. Water levels at TransAlta reservoirs included in this agreement will fluctuate during the modified operations period to reflect ongoing risk assessments for both flood and drought.

The new agreement with TransAlta includes the Kananaskis sub-basin, which provides the province with potentially more storage options to supplement flows in the Bow River during dry years. This is a key element in adapting to weather extremes brought on by climate change.

Initial reservoir target elevations prior to each operating season will be based on the provincial Water Supply Outlook, snowpack and soil moisture conditions, and prevailing weather patterns. In wet cycles, reservoir levels will be kept lower to facilitate potential flood storage. During dry cycles, target elevations will be kept higher to offset potential water shortage conditions later in the season, but still allow the reservoir to be lowered up to five days prior to a flood event. Operational targets will be posted on the Alberta Rivers app, under the Ghost Reservoir tab.

Emergency Water Supply and Access

What is the status of emergency water supply at Ghost Lake Summer Village?

A portable pump and piping has been supplied to the village and will be in place until the reservoir rises. This is to ensure firefighting equipment is reliably connected to a water supply.

It was noted that a pump and hoses had been delivered to Ghost Lake Village for fire protection. Why was something not in place as soon as the lake was lowered?

AEP has supplied the village with a large mobile pump (and appropriate training) to aid the village in fire suppression, should that be required. The pump that AEP supplied is only for supplemental supply to support and assist with the response planning.

Improved access to ramps at the Marina and Ghost Lake Village for the RCMP and Fire and Safety have been promised but nothing is in place. When will something be put in place?

AEP will work with the village and Alberta Parks to extend boat launch access to the reservoir.

How will lack of access to a water supply for fire prevention affect residents insurance? This should not be at their expense and should be covered by the Government. Is this a possibility, and why not?

AEP has supplied the village with a large mobile pump (and appropriate training) to aid the village in fire suppression, should that be required. If residents have concerns regarding insurance they should get in contact with their insurance provider.

More Information

Have a question about the modified operations agreement between the Alberta government and TransAlta? Email your question to:

 

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Updated: Jun 30, 2016