New study reveals leadership gap in flood-risk preparedness in Ontario

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Researchers behind a new report into the preparedness of Ontario communities to handle severe flooding are calling for Public Safety Canada to increase funding and provide enforceable standards for flood risk management in Canada.

The study, released last week, asked small to medium-sized Ontario communities about being prepared for future floods. Prepared by Partners for Action of the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, the report found that flooding remains a major source of socio-economic vulnerability, and a drain on municipal resources.

“Communities are at the front line of flood and climate adaptation, and are the first to react and drive the policy changes we need,” said Shawna Peddle, Director of Partners for Action at Waterloo. “However, some feel they are left to their own devices to make informed decisions about the risk of flood for their residents.”

The study identified a perceived leadership gap on climate adaptation at the federal and provincial level, and recommends that governments work together to provide the tools to help our communities understand their flood risk, and opportunities to reduce that risk.

“We can have the best information and tools to help our communities prepare and recover from flood, but what they really need is explicit direction and regulatory guidance from government, so adaptation becomes part of business planning,” said Peddle.

The study also identified a strong divide between urban and rural communities, including First Nations, in potential impacts of flooding and in capacity to understand and address flood risk.

Recommendations from the study include a call for Public Safety Canada to increase funding under the National Disaster Mitigation Program, and provide enforceable standards and regulations for flood risk management in Canada.

“Federal and provincial governments need to prioritize community resiliency and provide technical, planning, and financial support to community leaders,” said Peddle. “Additionally, Ontario should increase funding to Conservation Authorities to reliably fund management and flood protection activities for the long-term. “

Another surprising find was that homeowners don’t take advantage of municipal incentive programs to reduce their exposure to flood, such as installing backwater valves and rain gardens.

“Canadians as a whole don’t really know if they are at risk, or the damage flood can cause in their homes,” said Ms. Peddle. “We need to create a flood culture in this country, with individuals and municipalities understanding their risk from flood and doing something about it. As flood insurance becomes available nationally, acting to reduce risk will only benefit our communities.”

Partners for Action (P4A) is a multi-year applied research network advancing flood preparedness in Canada in the face of a changing climate and extreme weather. P4A receives support provided by the Co-operators Group Ltd. and Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan (FMRP).

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