Calgary Flood Story Has Key Immigration Angle

Calgary Flood Story Has Key Immigration Angle

John Meyer

As all of Canada has learned in the past week, very serious floods have struck Metro Calgary and many communities in southern Alberta. But, as many probably have not learned, the flood story reveals municipal failures to (1) resist developer pressure and (2) to stand up against senseless federal immigration policy.  

(1) Failing to Resist Developer Pressure
One would normally use the stock phrase “bad luck and poor planning” in a flood story, but luck is not a factor in the Calgary flood disaster.  The area is known to have major floods and big ones inevitably come along.   Also, the planning would undoubtedly have been better, despite inadequate information, if commercial interests had not pressured city management into approving laxer regulations.

Commercial interests wanted to build on a flood plain because it was the most profitable course for the region’s developers. This map shows the flood plain :

Based on data going back a very short time in geologic terms, the city allowed building in the now flooded areas while specifying certain standards to deal with a level of flooding they knew would occur.   The high water mark was taken to be the 1932 flood which saw flow in the Bow River increase 5 times its normal June level to 1500 cu metres per second.  That flood happened a mere 50 years before new building regulations were put in place.

However, it is now obvious that the maximum figure should have been much higher.  A government website ( ) says the current flood is running at 1800 cubic meters per second,  but media reports are consistently saying 6000 cu m/s.  This is twice the flow over Niagara Falls during the daytime.

Whatever the correct figures are,  there might have been worse floods, less well documented, in the late 1800s.  Ironically, in 1973, the Montreal Engineering Group study specified 2850 cu m/sec as a 150 year event.  If the 6000 cu m/s now being reported is correct,  this  2013 flood is well off the charts and into a multi-millenial event.

Calgary’s current regulations were written in 1983 but were quite possibly “watered down” as the following quote indicates.
“The City proposed management plans, but met with great disfavor by community groups, who were worried that property values would decline if hazard zones were officially declared.”

“…the City now has bylaws (as of 1983) regarding floodway (narrow zone needed to convey most of the 100-yr flood) and flood plain (shallowly flooded area) special regulations.”   

But the regulations and building standards clearly could not cope with a flow of a 6000 cu m/sec (or 1800 cu m/s)  flood.  In fact, the 100 year level may have been just 1/4 the volume of the current flood and it begs the question of what time horizon we should be building into our planning.   Did developers force a retreat to a 100 year level when the planners were proposing something more stringent?  Only a few people know the answer to that question.

(2) Failing to Stand Up Against Senseless Federal Immigration Policy

As has been the case throughout Canada’s history, short term development interests prevailed in direct conflict with government transparency and public interest, not to mention science.  Thus,  Calgary’s flood story is a microcosm of Canadian immigration policy.  

In both, decisions have been made in a fast growth, high profit planning environment which favours a select few and future generations are left to pick up the costs.

Metro Calgary’s population stands now at around 1.2 million. However, in 1990, at the beginning of Canada’s mass immigration policy,  its population stood at  around 700,000—­ according to University of Calgary figures.  That means its population has increased by about  500,000 since Canada’s mass immigration policy was introduced. 

This is a phenomenal increase.

This inflow, most of it caused by unnecessary immigration, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of new housing units and supporting infrastructure being built. How much of this construction was built on Metro Calgary’s flood plain?

Calgary, particularly its Mayor, cheer-leads Calgary’s “Diversity” and boasts that, as a result of this immigration,  its population is now about 26% foreign-born and growing.  Ironically. the Mayor also previously noted that rapid growth has put a major strain on the city and its tax base.  “We’re going to have a very significant infrastructure pressure ­ going forward, people who move to Calgary are actually a net drain,”.  

Now with huge bills for repair, and possibly enormous bills for new flood control piled on top of infrastructure growth bills, the Mayor and other “Diversity” promoters in Calgary should no longer be sipping the “growth-floats-all-boats” Cool-aid.

Calgary’s population size is significant by Canadian standards. In Canada’s population of about 34 million, the 2011 Canadian census indicated that Calgary ranked No. 5 among the country’s 33 census metropolitan areas.

Like the mindless “grow-forever”, “exploit-as-quickly-as-possible” policies which drive Canadian social decisions (foolish immigration among these social decisions), the Calgary development history shows its structural flaws when confronted with the environmental reality which time inevitably presents.   Very limited knowledge of long term environmental conditions, pressures of growth and the ability of short term development and vote-getting interests / fund raising should not be allowed to dominate the public policy process.

(3) Dismal Outlook

Now that Calgary is committed to those wrong-headed policies, the options going forward are all dismal.

With enormous flood damage, Metro Calgary is left with some major problems. 

1.  How much will repair cost? Probably  billions.

2.  How much would it cost to build protection?  Crippling amounts.

3.  How much would it cost to move parts of Calgary out of the way of the floods?  This probably won’t even be considered.   

4.  How much will it cost to do nothing?  See number 1.  Add unrecoverable human and business losses.  (Note that apparently, over-land flood insurance (as opposed to sewer backup insurance) is not available in Canada so basically no one is covered by insurance for any of this, according to one news report)

Let me repeat : Pressures of rapid development have forced bad public decisions.  Pressures of well-funded interest groups, whose focus is on their short term profits rather than on municipal or national well-being, have also forced bad public decisions. Failure to resist developer pressure and to stand up against senseless federal immigration policies have contributed significantly to Calgary’s flood disaster.

These pressures apply not only to Calgary, but to every level of government in Canada.

Unlike the decisions Calgary must now make, Canada as a whole can get off the “growth-forever’,  “mass immigration” treadmill and reap major benefits for its people while preserving Canada’s natural assets.   We have the technical expertise to lay out a path to both environmental sustainability and an egalitarian society.  We have the 20/20 historical vision to understand environmental and societal collapses down through history.  We have the social institutions which at least claim the primacy of individual and social welfare and protection against powerful lobbies. 

In other words, Canada has the tools and the opportunity to do better in the future than either it or Calgary has done in the past.   However, Calgary, being built where it is, and facing the damage that it has, no longer has such clear choices.


John Meyer is a long time environmental/population activist with an economics degree.Despite the economics degree, he has managed to learn to count in real physical units.

For links with many details, see the following :