Conservationists say southern Alberta land-use plan lacks flood protection

“We’re missing our greatest opportunity here in decades”

By Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald October 29, 2013

BANFF — A draft land-use plan for southern Alberta offers no new protection for flooding in the area, according to conservationists.

Earlier this month, the province released the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, which will guide future decisions on development, recreation and conservation in the southern part of the province.

It’s based on the watershed that was hardest hit by flooding in June.

“Here we are in the most floodprone area in Alberta and there’s no new protection,” Karsten Heuer, president of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, told those gathered Tuesday in Banff for a panel discussion on the plan. “We’re missing our greatest opportunity here in decades.

“This is a huge discrepancy and a huge disappointment.”

The proposed plan covers all of southern Alberta, spanning a 83,764-kilometre area from just north of Calgary to the Canada-United States border and from the Rocky Mountains to the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary. More than 1.6 million people live in the area.

Jessica Potter, a spokeswoman for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said the plan is still in its draft form.

“This is all important feedback,” she said.

Potter said, however, that the plan will align with any flood mitigation policies introduced by the province this year. It also stresses the importance of headwater protection and biodiversity, she said.

Heuer said the province should begin with the full protection of the Castle wilderness area in the southwest corner of Alberta.

“It’s the one core protected area that we really need to push hard on,” he said, noting the plan protects only the mountaintops in the area. “This is a really important building block for having an interconnected landscape for grizzly bears, for wolves, for the watershed.”

Other panellists, including a representative from Epcor, said watershed management is top of mind for the utility company.

“We’re concerned because anything that’s coming in from the headwaters, anything that is coming in from our watershed, we have to treat,” said Matthew McCrank, manager of water services for Banff and the Evan-Thomas area. “Watershed management in Alberta is a complex beast.”

As a result, he said source water protection is important.

A similar public panel, which also includes the Environmental Law Centre, will be held Wednesday from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. in the atrium at Elevation Place in Canmore.

Public input sessions hosted by the province begin next week, with meetings scheduled in the Crowsnest Pass and Taber on Nov. 5; Claresholm and Milk River on Nov. 6; and Strathmore and Canmore on Nov. 7.

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