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New Bow River Cochrane Dam – What we know so far

new bow river cochrane dam proposal map

If you follow the news in Cochrane and southern Alberta, you likely have heard about the proposed new Bow River Cochrane dam and reservoir. Noted in the image above as the “Glenbow East Option”, this dam and reservoir would be just east of Cochrane, towards the City of Calgary.

The goal of this project is to “build additional flood and drought storage capacity on the Bow River to reduce the impacts of severe weather events on Albertans and the economy”. Mainly, this is viewed as a project to benefit the major population & economic centre of Calgary from future floods and droughts, via more control over water supply levels.

Obviously, a major infrastructure project like this has the potential to change affected communities immensely. In addition to affects on water levels in Cochrane, the biggest effects will be felt in the surrounding park areas of the new Haskayne Legacy Park as well as Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

In this article, let’s explore:

  • What are the options for this new reservoir and dam?
  • What do the people of Cochrane & stakeholders think about it?
  • What does the province intend to do next?

If you have questions about Cochrane or our surrounding area, properties you’re seeing or the value of your home in the area, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. No question is too small and I’m happy to help!

What are the Options for this New Reservoir and Dam?

At the moment, the Government of Alberta is considering three potential options for this project:

  • Morley: A new reservoir between Seebe and Morley, on Stoney Nakoda Nations Reserve land.
  • Relocated Ghost Dam: An expansion of the existing Ghost Reservoir.
  • Glenbow East: A new reservoir between Cochrane and the Bearspaw Dam at the western edge of Calgary.

In terms of drought mitigation potential, the Ghost option would provide up to 90,000 cubic metres of storage. The Glenbow East option would provide as much as 120,000 cubic metres. Currently, the Government is not seeking input on the Morley option, though they have not taken it off the table as an option.

Price tags for each option announced so far have been $992M for the Glenbow East option, $917M for the Ghost option, and $922M for the Morley option – not including potential land swaps and compensation.

What do the people of Cochrane & stakeholders think about a potential new Bow River Dam?

The main concern is the Glenbow East option. This option would substantially damage the lands of the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, including about 1/3 of the park and millions of dollars worth of conservation lands. Flooding for this option would also destroy the only recently completed Haskayne Legacy Park and Pavillion, valued at least at $7M. Fourteen private properties would also be flooded and lost.

At a Townhall meeting on Saturday May 4th, representatives from the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park Foundation pressed hard for solutions that made sense for stakeholders in the area. It was noted that the water control gained by the reservoir would benefit only Calgary downstream, rather than the people of Cochrane – who would bear the potential risks.

GRPF noted in the event of another 2013 level flood, with the Glenbow East option, water would rise to the doors of the SLS Centre, and onto Griffin Road. The Ghost option would help avoid that, by holding the water upstream.

Stakeholders at the meeting seemed to push hard for the Ghost Expansion option as the preferred way to go.

What Does the Province Intend to Do Next?

The Government is currently approaching the Phase 2 feasibility study after completing their conceptual assessment in Phase 1. The formal webpage says:

“The aim is to assess technical feasibility, while carefully considering a variety of the following elements:

  • Cultural
  • Economic
  • Engineering
  • Environmental
  • Social
  • Traditional Land Use

Study findings will help the Government of Alberta decide if there is an option that should proceed to the next phase, the Engineering and Regulatory Approval Process.

The Feasibility Study started in spring 2020 and is expected to conclude by December 2024. For each option, the study will:

  • examine its technical feasibility
  • analyze its effectiveness in mitigating flood and drought risk, while also providing water management flexibility
  • assess the potential impacts on communities, the environment and infrastructure
  • quantify the costs and potential benefits
  • include additional engagement opportunities for Indigenous groups, stakeholders and the public

The Alberta government is working with WSP E&I Canada Limited to complete the feasibility study.

Residents and anyone hoping to have their voice heard can participate in the engagement by completing the survey here:

Concerned About the Potential New Bow River Cochrane Dam

With a strong connection to Cochrane, many of my clients and family members are concerned about the potential impacts of this project on our local area. Of course, our province has a duty to the people of Alberta to control our resources and ensure areas are protected from flooding and droughts. With that being said however, the impacts to people and communities need to be weighed.

I’m not an expert on hydrology or reservoirs. Considering the benefit to the Glenbow East Option vs. the Ghost expansion option is a mere 30,000 cubic metres, I think it makes sense to go with the one that will effect communities less. One only has to look at the myriad of dams and reservoirs on this river though to realize that on a long enough timeline, it’s possible all of these options will be exercised. That is taking a very long view, though – over decades.

If you’re curious about learning more, check out the links below to get involved: