On March 31, 2014, Alberta WaterSMART submitted the final report for the Bow Basin Flood Mitigation and Watershed Management Project to the ADM Flood Recovery Task Force.
This project was a collaborative effort of water management experts throughout the Bow River Basin to identify, examine and assess the intended and unintended consequences and trade-offs of potential flood mitigation options from a “headwaters to confluence” river system perspective. It considered flood mitigation options for the whole Bow River Basin including the Bow, Elbow, Highwood, and Sheep rivers. The objective was to provide the factual data needed for decision makers to be fully informed of what is possible, not necessarily what is advisable. This work in no way implies endorsement of specific options. This project is intended to inform a small part of the larger systemic approach as described in the Government of Alberta’s publication, Respecting Our Rivers: Alberta’s Approach to Flood Mitigation.
The report presents the modelling results and extensive discussion for each individual mitigation option as well as what might be possible for this Spring, Spring of 2015 and longer term options to achieve three different target flood flows. The project used the Bow River Operations Model (BROM) built by Bow River water managers and experts over the four years prior to the flood. Many different approaches to mitigation were explored: changing existing reservoir operations, diversions, dry dams, wetland storage, land management, restoring natural river functions, and relocation.
Through this work, flood mitigation was explored within the broader context of long term watershed management. Floods are reality in the Bow River basin, but droughts are more common and protecting the health of the river systems is fundamental. Protecting against severe and massive flooding will require some potentially severe and massive trade-offs among a variety of mitigation options, none of which are pleasant to contemplate nor beneficial to everyone. Effort must be put into creating the best meteorological and hydrological forecasting possible to inform operational decision making and enable a collaboration- based integrated management system for both flood and drought in the best interest of the whole basin.