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Dry Ponds
It's not what you might think ...and so much more

Dry ponds are a key component of our Stormwater Integrated Resource Plan (SIRP), EPCOR's holistic approach to gauging flood risk in Edmonton. Hear from Susan, Dawn and Kent on how we're working with communities to protect them from flooding.

by Curtis Gillespie

Some Edmonton neighborhoods are located in areas that once contained small lakes and sloughs that were suppressed or diverted decades ago for development. But here’s the thing with water — it’s still going to come up out of the ground, and it’s still going to fall out of the sky, and it’s still going to want to go where it’s been going for millennia. Which can be a problem when your neighborhood used to be a lake, and you’ve got an old basement. So, what can be done?

Welcome to the dry pond. No, it’s not an oxymoron, it’s one solution EPCOR is employing as part of a broader strategy to mitigate flooding in Edmonton. The concept is deceptively simple. A dry pond is a depression in the landscape that is usable for recreation, but when storms and floods occur, they act as catchments for excess water, diverting it away from the drainage network.​​​

An integral aspect of the broa​der landscape

The construction and engineering design is also straightforward. The hole is dug, underground infrastructure such as weeping tile is put in place, inlet-outlet pipes are fed into the depression for overflow control, drainage grates are put in place, the surface is resodded and there you have it. The dry pond then looks and functions as a park. This solution takes an enormous amount of pressure off the drainage network during extreme weather, meaning that if you live in a high-risk neighborhood, water might end up in a dry pond instead of your basement.

Dry ponds are a key component of the Stormwater Integrated Resource Plan (SIRP), EPCOR’s holistic approach to gauging flood risk in Edmonton (a plan that has won numerous industry awards). There are five primary components to SIRP. They are SLOW (slowing the entry of stormwater into the drainage network), MOVE (moving excess water away from high-rise areas), SECURE (making sure individual properties are protected against flood risk), PREDICT (using technology to predict stormwater flow and management) and RESPOND (quickly reacting to storm events to protect the community).

Susan Ancel is in her 31st year working with EPCOR and is now director of One Water Planning, spearheading the company’s overall water strategy. “There are multiple form factors for dry ponds. In Edmonton, we typically have a soccer field or a baseball diamond or two, maybe a running track,” says Ancel. “But first you have to make sure they're in a location where the water wants to go.” Equally important, says Ancel, is nothing happens until the City and the relevant school boards approve of the location. “The first step is to confirm the pond makes sense in the designated location. Once that’s done, then we go into the community and do the broader, deeper discussions.”

Collaboration is key

What’s almost as important as the purpose and location, however, is the process by which dry ponds are created. Yes, they are there for flood mitigation, but they also serve as soccer fields, pathways, green spaces, sledding hills, and natural habitats for flora and fauna. They are, in other words, integral aspects of a community’s broader landscape. It requires listening and working with communities through communication and consultation to make sure it remains as such after the dry pond goes in, especially because the City of Edmonton and school boards are also often involved. For something so simple on the surface, there are many factors to be considered at the technical and human levels to make sure everyone from EPCOR engineers to children tobogganing in the winter are happy.

Which is where Dawn Fenske comes in. She is an EPCOR senior advisor of stakeholder engagement supporting drainage capital projects. “Dry pond projects might be similar from a construction methodology perspective,” says Fenske, “but how our team engages with the communities and residents changes based on location, what exactly we're doing there, and the priorities of the community.” For all drainage capital projects, Fenske and other members of EPCOR’s consultation team use a “stakeholder matrix” with roughly a dozen criteria for each project. They gather data, examine sensitivities around each criterion that helps inform the engagement process. “Our dry pond projects follow a very high level of engagement and consultation,” she says. “The data and our collective experience help guide our interaction and communication with the community and identify unique sensitivities based on conversations and our other experiences in that community.”

EPCOR uses a common methodology for such projects, but the characteristics of each project and community allow them to adapt and customize plans. A combination of engagement opportunities are offered, including surveys, open houses, online information sessions, chances for individual feedback, and ways for key stakeholders such as schools, school boards and community leagues to participate.


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Given the intense community focus on these projects, relationships are critical. Kent McMullin was president of the Ermineskin Community League when EPCOR was putting dry ponds into Ermineskin and the adjacent Steinhauer neighborhood. He says EPCOR’s approach made all the difference to community buy-in. “They managed expectations in a professional manner,” says McMullin. “We all understood the need as soon as the team from EPCOR showed us the map of all the basements that flooded with storms in years past. EPCOR explained the concept and what they were going to do.”​​

A community-oriented, future for​ward approach​

Even still, the community did express concern that the original plan called for the removal of a toboggan and sledding hill that McMullin says was special for families. After hearing the concerns, EPCOR adapted its plan, salvaged the treasured hill and even added a smaller new hill.​

“It has totally redefined the neighborhood,” says McMullin. “Instead of a plain flat field having a contoured bowl and landscaping, we now have multiple toboggan spots. The younger kids will slide down into the dry pond area, and the older kids who want a little bit of speed will go to the hill in the southeast corner of the school. It happened through open dialogue and communication between the community league and EPCOR.”​

“SIRP is a changing of the conversation,” says Susan Ancel. “It used to be about green versus grey infrastructure, with people thinking green, like a dry pond, was not as reliable as the grey, such as pipes. With SIRP, we made green our SLOW strategy and gray the MOVE strategy, and connected them to SECURE, PREDICT and RESPOND. It’s a unique strategy, and it’s here in Edmonton.”

Dry ponds are proving to be cost-efficient, low-impact, community-oriented and future forward. “I’m really proud of the work we do on dry ponds,” says Dawn Fenske. “I feel like we’ve made a difference.”​​

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