Canadian Underwriter

3 Canadian cities more prepared for flood now than they were five years ago

February 19, 2021   by Jason Contant

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There’s good and bad news when it comes to the flood preparedness of 16 major Canadian cities.

The bad news is that the average level of flood preparedness has remained stagnant from 2015 to 2019-20, showing a considerable margin for improvement, according to a recent report from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (ICCA). The good news is that at least three cities can serve as leaders to their provincial and territorial counterparts.

“On average, the state of flood preparedness of Canada’s major 16 cities was not materially better or worse over the timeframe 2015 to 2019-20,” said the report, Climate Change and the Preparedness of 16 Major Canadian Cities to Limit Flood Risk.

“On a positive note, Edmonton, Regina, and Toronto scored well in terms of their efforts to limit the impacts of flooding, which could guide and perhaps serve as a model for other cities to emulate their efforts where appropriate.”

The average flood preparedness grade for Canadian cities in 2019-20 was C+, the same as in 2015. Edmonton improved from a C in 2015 to a B+ in 2019-20. Regina improved from a C- to a B+ and Toronto was up from a B- to a B+.

ICCA uses various criteria to assess the flood preparedness of the cities studied: the usage of flood risk assessments, land use planning, urban drainage assessments, residential property risk mitigation, critical infrastructure risk mitigation, public health and safety (assessments on risks affecting healthcare/chemical facilities and dams), emergency management, and the presence (or absence) of a chief resilience officer (CRO). Yellowknife, N.W.T., and Iqaluit, NU were evaluated based on only the first five criteria, as well as the presence of a CRO.

In the 2019-20 study, the 16 Canadian cities graded included Yellowknife, Iqaluit, Vancouver, Surrey (BC), Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Fredericton, Charlottetown, Halifax and St. John’s (Nfld).

“The primary vulnerability consistently demonstrated by the studied cases was risk exposure of residential properties to flooding,” the report said. “Of the 16 studied cities, only Edmonton reported significant strength in this important domain of flood preparedness. Only Edmonton stated that it provides free home flood assessments for any homeowner through its municipally-owned utility, EPCOR.”

Cities like Edmonton, Regina and Toronto demonstrated strength in many or multiple domains of flood preparedness. For example, Edmonton conducted a supplementary pluvial flooding assessment for all of its electrical substations. Regina upgraded its drainage systems to enable them to handle more extreme events, while Toronto has installed dual power feeds to its most critical electrical-powered infrastructure, with standby generators.

“Despite the fact that nearly all cities demonstrated strengths in flood risk assessment related to riverine and/or coastal flooding, only half of the cities reviewed – namely Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and St. John’s – reported assessing risk of pluvial (e.g., sewer back-up) flooding,” the report said.

“In addition, nearly all surveyed municipal governments reported a similar level of strength with respect to their urban drainage assessment efforts, including the amendment of engineering standards to meet performance expectations under increasingly challenging climatic conditions as well as initiatives focused at rebuilding and upgrading stormwater infrastructure.”

In general, areas of weakness in city flood preparedness initiatives include flood risk mitigation for residential property (specifically in the domain of pluvial flooding), critical infrastructure risk mitigation (particularly in the food and financial sectors), and public health and safety (especially in the chemical sector).

“Although most Canadian cities have made progress in identifying areas vulnerable to flood risk, most indicated an inability to prohibit or restrict development in high-risk areas, as this responsibility fell under provincial control,” the report said. “Even when municipal governments had developed their own floodplain maps – that incorporate climate change projections, sea level rise, and land-use changes – they often lack the ability to restrict development within areas at risk of flooding, and could only offer advice on flood protection strategies.”


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