Experts offer a ‘toolbox’ to protect lives and properties from flooding, Canada’s costliest extreme weather challenge

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Every year, flooding causes millions of dollars in property damage - what can be done to help mitigate this risk?  A new report from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation has laid out guidelines to do just that.

report title page with man and an umbrellaExtreme weather events including floods are becoming more common. Every year, flooding causes millions of dollars in property damage. Approximately 1.7 million Canadian homes are at risk of riverine or overland flooding. And as our climate continues to change, the risk of flooding—and the costs associated with it—are expected to increase.

The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (Intact Centre) at the University of Waterloo and the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) have joined forces to develop a new compilation of national standards and guidelines for increasing Canada’s resilience to flooding. 

Presented as a “one-stop-shop” for practical and cost-effective ways to alleviate the risk of future floods, the report’s key message is that Canadians already have the tools they need to protect lives and property from flooding. What has been lacking – until now – is a summary of practical actions that stakeholders in Canada can undertake to materially improve flood resilience in their homes, businesses and communities. 

The report comes with a message of urgency. 

Extreme weather caused by climate change is on the rise, and Canada "is not moving fast enough" to limit the risks to people, property and the economy, say Natalia Moudrak and Water Institute member Dr. Blair Feltmate, co-authors of Under One Umbrella: Practical Approaches for Reducing Flood Risks in Canada.  

"Canadians have already developed practical, workable methods to increase resilience to flooding -- this report gathers them in one place, so people can start using them now," Moudrak said. "We don't have the luxury of time."

Under One Umbrella is a toolbox of practical solutions that Canadians can put into action – today – to strengthen our resilience to floods,” said Chantal Guay, CEO of SCC. “This report is an excellent example of how, working together, SCC and the Intact Centre, supported by a dedicated group of flood professionals, are helping drive Canada’s health, well-being, and economic prosperity. Protecting what we have is especially important in these exceptionally challenging times.” 

The report outlines the risks of not acting swiftly:

  • Flooding is the costliest extreme-weather disaster in Canada, causing insurance payouts to exceed $1-billion in the last 11 of the 12 years leading up to 2020, and $900-million in federal disaster-relief annually.
  • Businesses and homeowners endure additional uninsurable losses, to the tune of three to four times the insurable losses.
  • Canadians afflicted by floods often suffer physical and mental health problems, sometimes for years afterward.

The publication highlights examples, from existing national standards and guidance, of actions to limit flood risks: 

  • Homeowners and tenants can clean out eavestroughs and catch basins; install plastic covers over basement window wells; test sump pumps to ensure they are working; and make emergency plans and kits.
  • Governments at all levels can provide up-to-date flood-risk maps and property-level flood risk information; ensure that flood-forecasting and warning systems are in place; include flood-resilience expenditures in long-term financial plans; and update building codes to reflect flood-resilience measures.
  • Owners and managers of commercial buildings can create flood response plans and procedures for each building; equip buildings with portable barriers, sandbags, backup generators, emergency lighting and other supplies; protect critical equipment; and incorporate the cost of such actions into asset-management and long-term financial planning. 
  • Professionals involved in buying, selling or insuring property -- including insurance brokers, mortgage brokers, real estate agents and home inspectors -- can boost their skills with professional training about household flood protection through their professional associations. Mortgage lenders can offer incentives for retrofits that make homes more resilient to flooding.
  • Regional conservation agencies and ENGOS (Environmental Non-Government Organizations) can publicize existing data about flood risks, and assess and communicate the economic benefits provided by specific natural infrastructure (such as ponds, wetlands and areas with trees and vegetation) for flood protection to local communities.
  • Institutional investors, such as pension funds, can identify the physical risks that climate change poses for companies in different industry sectors; if they find that flooding is a risk, they should find out whether those companies have taken steps to reduce that risk. 

a graph featured in the report

The Intact Centre is an applied research centre at the University of Waterloo. For additional information, visit: https://www.intactcentreclimateadaptation.ca/

Established in 1970 as a federal Crown corporation, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) is Canada’s voice on standards and accreditation on the national and international stage. For more information visit www.scc-ccn.ca

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