Stormwater system upgrades come at ‘significant cost’

A resident of Sunnyside, Wendy Weisshaar, stands beside the stormwater system that will see improvements to prevent future flooding along the Bow River pathway in Calgary. Photograph by: Christina Ryan , Calgary Herald

A resident of Sunnyside, Wendy Weisshaar, stands beside the stormwater system that will see improvements to prevent future flooding along the Bow River pathway in Calgary.
Photograph by: Christina Ryan , Calgary Herald

A utility bill hike is looming for Calgarians to help pay for upgrades to drainage systems across the city that could be overwhelmed in future floods.

Coun. Druh Farrell said the June floods exposed the frailties of many storm water and sewerage networks, which needed to be improved at “significant cost.”

That could mean an increase in the drainage fee Calgarians pay each month as part of their utilities bill.

Farrell is overseeing upgrades in Sunnyside after drainage problems exacerbated damage to homes in the June floods and caused further flooding in July, infuriating residents.

“It highlighted the need to increase our drainage budget for these communities that have repeated floods,” she said.

In June, storm water outfall gates that needed to be closed manually to prevent rising water from the Bow River inundating the neighbourhood were shut too late. In July, the same gates were shut when they needed to be open to let rain water drain into the river.

A newsletter to Ward 7 residents last week said work on automating the outfall gates would be finished by spring.

“That will eliminate the time gap between identifying the potential for flooding and opening the gates,” Farrell said.

The city was considering further improvements, including a separate storm water system for low-lying Sunnyside. The area currently shares a system with higher-altitude suburbs to the north, and bore the brunt of the extra strain on the system during the floods. Water services was also looking at installing valves to prevent back-flow in storm water drains.

“There’s still some frustration that it took us a massive flood in order to act,” Farrell said.

“It would have been far better if we could have addressed these concerns earlier.”

Communities in higher parts of the city, such as Tuxedo, Capitol Hill and Lakeview also had drainage issues, she said, and the cost of upgrading them all was “huge”.

“It’s hundreds of millions of dollars that we need. We need to increase our drainage fees.”

Sunnyside resident Wendy Weisshaar pumped water from her newly-renovated basement twice in two weeks during the floods. She welcomed the planned upgrades but was still on edge knowing the problems were yet to be fixed.

“There’s this constant sense of (being) on alert. Even now, I worry about what’s coming this spring. We’ve had all this snow. You just cross your fingers that it’s going to hold.”

Weisshaar said she would be happy to pay higher drainage fees to fund the work but acknowledged others may not.

“I heard (a friend) say ‘what do people expect when they have their house in a flood plain?’ There’s a lot of people who (don’t) say it out loud but think it.”

A June 2013 report to council said the 23 storm water upgrades on the city’s books would cost $170 million and take 20 years to complete at current funding levels. Further studies could identify up to $75 million more work that needs to be done. The city planned to recommend increasing the annual average expenditure from $7 million to as much as $17 million before budgets were set for next year.

Coun. Ray Jones, chair of the utilities and corporate services committee, said a drainage fee increase is likely.

“I’m positive that something’s coming. We’ll take it to the public first though,” he said.

“Something has to be done, that’s obvious. We can’t afford to have the floods like we had last year.”

The cost of any upgrades has to be spread across all ratepayers, Jones said, but he is wary of a large hike.

“If we’re talking $1 (per month) that’s one thing. If we’re talking $10 or $20 that’s another.”

The committee is due to consider the issue in the next two months, Jones said.

 

Source: Calgary Herald

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