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DAM FLOODS AND DROUGHTS - PART 2: ADAPTING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
By Gillian Ward
As Canadian municipalities, businesses and homeowners consider best options for managing the next flood, the National Hydrological Service has received $89.7 million in federal funding to upgrade our national water monitoring network. WaterToday checked in with Environment Canada to find out more.
While Ontario has announced cuts to its provincial agency that monitors water flow, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)’s National Hydrological Service is now funded to modernize, providing real-time flow data for planning and response, sharing intelligence with provinces and territories.
In a statement provided by ECCC, the Ministry works in close partnership with provinces and territories ...through a cost-share agreement, to operate and provide data from approximately 2800 active hydrometric gauges across the country. Under formal bilateral agreements, the Meteorological Service of Canada’s National Hydrological Service serves as the principal operator of the water-monitoring network. Strong governance is in place with a National Administrator’s Table (NAT) that coordinates federal and provincial/territorial partners, ensuring effective sharing of information and approaches.
Building upon recent investments in weather supercomputing and forecasts systems, the Government of Canada’s $89.7 million investment will also support provincial and territorial and others for flood and drought management.
With all hands-on deck, Canada is gearing up to protect our assets ahead of the next flood season. Significant resources are being channeled into risk mitigation measures for climate change impacts in recent years. From the $2 billion-dollar Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund from Canada Infrastructure to the Clean Energy Hub, administering $500 million for adaptation for climate change and other priorities, municipalities have been encouraged to plan ahead, and to collaborate.
As previously reported at WaterToday, Canada Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale recently announced funding for the development of a Prairie Water Strategy. At the Prairie Water Summit held in Regina in June, Minister Goodale pointed out that the drain on the federal coffers for climate related disaster relief has increased dramatically in recent years. Minister Goodale reported that his Department has “spent more on disaster relief in the last six years than in the previous 43 years combined”.
According to details provided to WaterToday by Canada Public Safety’s National Disaster Mitigation Program, Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA’s) have gone out to relieve provinces and territories since 1970.
While climate change may not be to blame for all of the damage, Minister Goodale’s office has shelled out $3.2 billion dollars in relief funds to provinces and territories since 2010, and the meter is still running on the decade. Recent claims are related to storms and flooding, according to Canada Public Safety spokesperson, Zarah Malik.
From the information provided, we have calculated that Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA’s) have escalated in the following manner:
In the first half of the 1970’s, total payments from the fund came close to $15 million. In the latter half of the 1970’s, total payments escalated to around $50 million.
For the 1980’s, total payments of $82.8 million were made, including the greatest single year total up to that point, $32.9 million paid out in 1988, almost 40% of the decade’s national relief funds paid out in one year.
Into the 1990’s, DFAA’s came close to $1 billion dollars, with the last four years of the millennium accounting for 85% of that decade’s disaster losses.
The start of the new millennium saw a slight decline in disaster spending, down to $748 million.
This decade DFAA’s are more than triple the highest previous decade, and we are still counting losses.
Adjusting for inflation, the disaster relief paid out in the 1970’s would cost the federal coffers around $200 million in today’s dollars. In fact, disaster claims have multiplied almost twenty times in five decades.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada reports $10 billion in insured losses in just three years of this current decade. Insurance companies are acting to cut their losses by reducing coverage to properties in flood zones. With underinsured properties dropping in value, some homeowners have been served with foreclosure notices, as banks divest their risk in flood zone areas.
For businesses and homeowners, protecting our most valuable assets from flooding has been strenuous and costly. When the 2019 spring flooding hit Eastern Canada, a case of volunteer fatigue had set in. Homeowners along the rivers were faced with sandbagging on their own steam and on their own dime.
Pierre Poirier, Manager, Security and Emergency Management for the City of Ottawa reports that 1.5 million sandbags were created to assist the 1100 properties impacted by spring flooding in 2019. Of the sandbags provided, 250,000 clean bags were stored away for future use. The remaining 1.25 million used sandbags have been used as capping at the waste facility, shredded for winter road maintenance, and allocated for private land use.
The City of Ottawa Public Health posts a video demonstration of how to make a sandbag retaining wall on the web, but this is of little help if it is not watched, or if there are limited human resources available to stack the bags.
When individuals erect sandbag walls, the structure along the route can be inconsistent, creating dangerous flows when weak spots are breached. Sandbag walls must be continually monitored for leaks. After the flood waters have subsided, the sandbags are often contaminated with e-coli and other hazardous pathogens. Homeowners are responsible to take down their own retaining walls and return the bags to be recycled, at a significant labour cost.
Thomas Little of Gatineau, Quebec explained what sandbagging is all about, and he should know, as he had to build, inspect and maintain his sand-dams in both 2017 and 2019 floods. “Even though my wall held up in 2019, my personal wellbeing did not. I had to monitor the wall 24/7 for two months. I know that I cannot do this (sandbagging) again”, Little told WaterToday.
Little’s home insurance policy is now restricted with a rider, limiting future claims for overland flooding to a maximum of $25,000 per incident. Mr. Little spent $20,000 from his own pocket this spring hiring labour to build, and later remove, a six-foot high, eighty-foot long wall, constructed with 18,000 sandbags. He did not make a claim on his insurance policy, fearing that coverage could be withdrawn entirely in the future.
Mr. Little tells WaterToday that he has spent the last two years researching alternatives to sandbags for flood protection, and that Flood Control Canada is the only viable option he would consider of three North American companies.
Little traveled to Kelowna last month to see the flood control systems set up. He says he is happy with the product, and that the cost is in line. A permanent flood control system to protect the Little home will come very close to what has been spent dealing with two recent floods. With a fifty-year useful life on the mechanical system, and avoidance of the pain of future sandbagging, this investment makes all kinds of sense to the homeowner, to protect what is left of his property value.
WaterToday consulted directly with Flood Control Canada to learn more about the options available for Canadians to protect and preserve their most valuable assets.
Dirk Stroda offers master planning consulting and several lines of flood control systems designed and manufactured in Europe. Mr. Stroda explains that the accumulated experience among his equipment manufacturer/suppliers involves 60 000 plus projects, delivered in 27 countries over the last thirty years.
Canadian municipalities need master planning to protect critical infrastructure from floods, defining ways to adapt without losing power and water services. Stroda could not say enough about the need for planning and long-term solutions. “We need to be able to assess, not guess”, says Stroda, when it comes to public safety and emergency preparedness.
There are many proven flood control options available, each of them being more efficient and effective than sandbags. Considering that these systems can be used year after year, the capital cost is justified.
Stroda describes the various flood control systems in terms of categories, permanent, temporary and emergency.
Permanent flood controls are best suited for malls and urban high traffic areas. The options range from heavy glass walls such as those of Hamburg Harbor, to a hybrid system with pre-installed supports that will accept temporary wall panels as needed. The solutions available include walls up to 4m high, fully automated systems with water sensors that use hydraulic pressure to automatically erect the flood walls.
Emergency flood control options include light weight re-usable panels that set up quickly by crews of two to four people. Stroda estimates that crews with basic training can erect 100m of wall per hour, a great deal faster than sandbagging and more secure. These systems are said to be effective even on unprepared terrain, while flooding is already in progress. The life span of the metal systems is fifty plus years, making sense of the capital cost.
“If municipalities along a flood risk zone could fund the purchase of one kilometre of flood wall, the equipment could be stored centrally and deployed where and when it is needed”, says Stroda. Often it is hard to predict where the flooding may occur, so sharing the emergency resource is one way to minimize the capital cost and protect the critical infrastructure of population centres in the flood zones.”
WaterToday asked the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to weigh in on the subject.
“Cities and communities are on the front lines of new weather extremes as more frequent floods, wildfires and other events wreak havoc on our homes and businesses. Responding and adapting to new weather extremes requires collaboration among all orders of government...” says FCM President Bill Karsten, “but people often look to their local governments for solutions first.”
If municipalities were to implement mechanical flood controls, with a systems approach, the structural integrity of the flood barrier and timing of the deployment could be better controlled, maximizing public safety and protecting the integrity and value of property.
Property values have dropped like a rock in two successive floods on Thomas Little’s street in Gatineau. Even still, the City of Gatineau is considering new zoning regulations that will restrict homeowners in identified flood zones from rebuilding after flood damage. Based on the proposed zoning changes, sandbagging would be allowed for flood control, but the concrete footing required to support a mechanical flood control system would not be permitted. If the zoning changes are passed, property values are likely to drop further.
Speaking of the need for a coordinated plan to head off future flood risk, “Its not just about the environment,” added Tom Little. “It’s our property, our financial wellbeing, all we have worked for, and our safety and peace of mind too.”
In the next section of this report, WaterToday looks at what some Canadian watersheds have going on to ensure water security for future droughts.
Successive floods: Preparing for the new normal
Call for collaboration: Preparing for floods - part 1
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