04/29/2014 03:15 EDT | Updated 06/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Alberta Flood Mitigation Programs Will Take Years To Complete

Marc Shandro via Getty Images

CALGARY - The Alberta government has narrowed down the flood-prevention projects it will fund after the deluge that devastated the southern part of the province last summer.

But Environment Minister Robin Campbell concedes it will be years before all the work is completed.

The province has set aside $600 million over the next three years to pay for the highest-priority mitigation projects.

"I think we'll be very efficient on our timelines moving forward but again there's a lot of decisions that have to be made. It's going to involve three levels of government and we want to make sure we get it right," Campbell said Tuesday.

Alberta plans to move forward with preliminary designs, environmental reviews and community consultations on two water diversion and storage projects.

Initial approval has been given for an off-stream storage site west of Calgary that would divert and store water from the Elbow during flood conditions. A dry dam at the confluence of McLean Creek and the Elbow River would provide protection for the communities of Bragg Creek, Redwood Meadows and Calgary.

A southern diversion on the Highwood River will direct flood water around the town of High River and provide options to store water that could be used for irrigation.

High River was the hardest hit area when torrential downpours dumped 350 millimetres of rain over a two-day period last June. The rain hammered Calgary and communities as far away as the Rocky Mountains to the west and Medicine Hat in the east.

Flooding forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and caused an estimated $6 billion in damage.

Campbell said he understands the need for the public to see progress is being made.

"As we come closer to the end of June, emotions are going to creep up again and people are going to be uneasy. The sooner we can start showing results on the ground the better off we are going to be for people," he said.

"One of the things I am concerned about — and we're starting to see it more and more — is mental-health issues. It's starting to come out now, so (we need) to put people's fears at rest that we are moving forward in a timely matter."

The city of Calgary is still studying the merits of an underground diversion channel to take water from the Glenmore Reservoir to the Bow River. A feasibility study is expected at the end of June.

The off-stream storage site west of the city could be ready in about two years. The others will take longer.

Campbell said engineering studies and environmental assessments will go ahead at the same time, but it isn't possible to speed up the process.

"There's a lot of assessments that have to be done at the provincial level. There'll be questions on what evokes the Department of Fisheries Act and how much Environment Canada wants to be involved," Campbell said.

"You can't shortcut. The process is there and has to be followed. Stakeholders have the ability to bring their concerns forward, and as a province and a government we have the responsibility to listen to those concerns."

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