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FLOODPROOFING ACROSS THE NATION
By Gillian Ward
As WaterToday looks into water management and flooding scenarios across the country, from the mountain flash flood zone in the west, following the river systems flowing through the prairies, we arrive at the east coast, the Cradle of our Nation.
Digital flood modeling projects that the sea will swallow the town of Annapolis Royal within the next three decades. We spoke with Mayor Bill MacDonald to find out what one small, but very significant Canadian municipality is doing to adapt ahead of a catastrophic sea level rise scenario.
“So essentially, we see ourselves at great risk because of the flood forecasting that suggests that rising sea levels will submerge our town completely by 2050 if not sooner”, says Mayor MacDonald.
“We can imagine that this is a progressive rise”, MacDonald says, anticipating dealing with “damage and destruction along our historic waterfront” well before 2050. Even now, the storm surges push past the armour and wooden boardwalk.
“We have a beautiful waterfront amphitheatre, that in a big storm will see lots of debris that will actually make its way over the boardwalk onto the amphitheatre itself, so visually and anecdotally we get to see just what we might expect” in the future, with the trending sea level rise.
The flood problem here is not of the hundred-year flood, or a remote possibility of a passing event, but a measured mathematical and physical certainty of a new normal for the line between the sea and land.
“We have a problem that won’t be satisfied by just putting a bunch of sandbags out, or putting those tubes of, inflatable tubes, that’s not going to solve our problem. We need something that will actually act, essentially like a stop dam, to actually stop the flow of water”, says MacDonald.
Annapolis Royal is a national treasure, 95% of the town is National Historic District. The town is historically irreplaceable. To relocate the town would be an “unconscionable loss for Canada” says the Mayor. The town has an Environmental Advisory Committee that has delved into the science of sea level rise, and is prepared to deal with it, along with neighbouring waterfront communities, searching for a regional solution.
So, how will the floodwaters be held back here, around the Bay of Fundy, known for some of the highest tides in the world?
By looking to the communities with sea level management success, in the most similar conditions, of course.
Mayor MacDonald explains, “we have looked at a lot of the communities that are along the North Sea (Europe) because that part of the Atlantic is not unlike kind of what the Fundy is during the middle of a storms, fierce winds, and high tides.”
“I know that Rotterdam and other places have big flood gates, lots of the waterfronts of the cities along there, communities along there, have infrastructure that raises when needed, or permanent fixtures or a combination of those things.”
Canadian Municipalities Exploring Flood Control Options
As reported previously at WaterToday, the City of Calgary has two river systems converging near the downtown core, and a very short warning window for impending flooding. Calgary has adopted mechanical, structural flood barriers at critical flow points in its municipal flood mitigation plan. The Heritage Drive project is the City’s third such installation, scheduled to be unveiled to the public in May 2020.
We heard from Renée Amyot, Conseillère municipale District Limbour at the City of Gatineau about flood planning underway in Quebec. Four community meetings were held in Gatineau in November 2019, inviting property owners directly impacted by flooding to contribute suggestions and proposals to an assembled committee of experts set up to advise and make recommendations.
The flood panel consists of water management professionals, including hydrology engineer, urban hydrologist, ethics expert, flood and water basin management research specialist. The City of Gatineau is an active participant in flood management planning for the province of Quebec as well.
Proposals for various flood mitigation measures were accepted n in December 2019, however the committee had not made its recommendations as of the time of this writing.
WaterToday made contact with homeowners impacted by the flooding of the Ottawa, Gatineau, Prairies and St. Lawrence Rivers in 2017 and 2019. (To protect identities, we have summarized the comments without attribution.)
Concerns raised by the homeowners flooded twice in three years:BR>
Without exception, homeowners stated that sandbagging is not an adequate solution for future flood events. With fewer volunteers turning up in 2019 compared to 2017, and the mandated physical distancing for Covid-19 going on presently, our contacts were not optimistic that enough help would be available for sandbagging this spring.
- lack or limitation on overland flood insurance
- desire to remain in the home/neighbourhood rather than take a buy out and relocate
- determination to find a flood management solution that will work over the long term
Department of Defense Standing Ready
As the rain falls, we contacted the Department of Defense (DND) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to find out if flood support is on the radar for 2020. A spokesperson for DND reassured us that every effort is being made to maintain the health of the forces, ensuring readiness to respond to whatever situation may arise.
“As the force that must be ready at all times to conduct military operations, at home and abroad – including support to civil authorities in the case of flooding through Operations LENTUS - the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces has a responsibility to enforce force health protection measures for their personnel in order to maintain operational effectiveness and preserve their capacity to carry out core missions in support of the Government of Canada.”
The DND/CAF respond to requests for assistance initiated through Emergency Management protocols, where the municipality is the lead, calling on the Province or Territory, who would in turn call upon the Minister of Public Safety, in the event of a natural disaster requiring assistance from Canada.
There are no requests for DND/CAD support at present, however, the “Canadian Armed Forces members are highly trained and continue to stand ready to offer assistance in support of civilian authorities during any crisis in Canada, including natural disasters, wherever and whenever required.”
Flood is the New Fire – Is Your Home Covered?
WaterToday looked to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), to find out how insurers are handling flood claims.
IBC VP Federal Affairs, Craig Stewart told WaterToday that as of 2020, approximately 80% of Canadian property owners have access to overland flood insurance products today. An overland flood is a distinctly different risk or peril than flooding due to failure of private or municipal sewer or water infrastructure.
An estimated ten percent of Canadian properties are classified high risk for flooding, meaning that insurance is not offered to cover damages caused by overland flooding. That a significant number of Canadian homes are, in fact, uninsured for flood damages is unsettling, but Stewart explained that overland flood products really did not exist in Canada until recently.
During the disastrous floods that hit southern Alberta in 2013, “there was an expectation from residents affected, that their policies would cover their flooding”, but this was not the case. Most policies covered sewer backups, but floodwater from rainfall or the environment was technically not covered.
Stewart says, “Insurers ended up paying out a number of claims essentially because of the consumer expectation, and for reputations’ sake.”
After this, the insurance industry realized that consumers needed and expected overland flood insurance protection for their homes and businesses.
IBC went on a search for a company that could provide underwriting-quality flood models and maps for development of new flood coverage products.
“We ended up paying a British company several million dollars to develop those maps to support overland flood insurance across southern Canada”, says Stewart.
“The models and maps were completed in 2015. Four insurers started offering overland flood products in early 2016, and today there’s probably about 22 insurers that are offering overland flood insurance of some sort across the country”, according to Stewart.
While the majority of Canadian property owners are now able to purchase flood insurance, “there is a couple of issues”, notes Stewart.
“For one, with escalating climate change, it is difficult to predict which areas, if any, are actually low risk. Because essentially you can have a torrential downpour occur and overwhelm local storm water infrastructure, pretty well anywhere in the country.
For those property owners in the high risk areas, IBC has worked out an unprecedented arrangement, according to Stewart, “we have worked closely with the federal government to design a high risk insurance pool, to ensure that those (uninsurable) Canadians have access to …some sort of flood insurance.”
In the urban environment it’s a very unpredictable hazard, and that hazard is growing.
And then, on the other side, there is very predictable overland flooding, in floodplains. Places where…there is anywhere from 20 to 100-year chance of flooding, and that periodicity is no longer static, it’s dynamic, because areas that used to be, used to flood once in 100 years now flood once in 40 years.
“There are defined areas of predictable risk, where about 10% of Canadian population live, that are frankly uninsurable”
Craig Stewart, VP Federal Affairs, IBC
Normally, damages from natural disasters such as flooding would be the responsibility of the province, or territory. Stewart confirmed, “it's new for the industry to work so closely with the federal government on a particular peril. So, this government, the Trudeau administration, has committed to introducing a high-risk insurance pool, within the next four years.”
Stewart says to “expect an announcement in the upcoming federal budget which should happen by the end of March, which will clarify how that pool will be designed.”
While the preferred recommendation of the IBC is for relocation of Canadians away from high risk properties, we found that homeowners themselves were really not interested in moving off the riverfronts.
Inquiring on the subject of alternative flood control options, whether municipal installed solutions might impact the insurability of high-risk properties, Stewart replied, “Its too early to tell. So right now, insurers are encouraging homeowners to protect their homes however possible.”
As for continued Canadian investment in flood planning, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has doled out its allocation of Climate Mitigation Funds and First Nations and Municipal Collaboration funding, and currently waiting for the new budget announcement.
Through Indigenous Service Canada, First Nation Adapt program, First Nations communities in the Atlantic provinces alone have received more than 2.2 million dollars over the last three years to identify flood-vulnerable infrastructure, presumably actionable intelligence from which solutions will be funded and implemented in the future.
As Annapolis Royal searches out options and funding for a regional flood solution in Nova Scotia, Calgary goes into year seven building out its flood plan, and Gatineau works through the early steps of a flood planning process, WaterToday will keep our readers up to date.
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