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New study assesses flood preparedness in 15 Canadian cities


May 21, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter


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Ottawa leads the pack of 15 Canadian cities in flood preparedness, according to a new study commissioned by The Co-operators.

The cities preparedness for flooding was rated relative to 16 areas of flood vulnerability

The study, released on Thursday, was written by Dr. Blair Feltmate, an associate professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. Prepardness of fifteen Canadian cities to limit flood damage assessed the level of preparedness of 15 major Canadian cities to limit flood damage and aims to motivate cities to increase efforts to build resilience against flooding and to provide a benchmark against which their progress can be measured.

After Ottawa, which received a grade score of A-, the following remaining cities received a score from B+ to D: Winnipeg, Calgary, St. Johns, Toronto, Montreal, Mississauga, Ont., Edmonton, Fredericton, Whitehorse, Charlottetown, Quebec City, Regina, Vancouver and Halifax.

Halifax rounded out the Top 15 cities evaluated

Researchers examined the cities’ preparedness for flooding caused by extreme rainfall, relative to 16 areas of flood vulnerability. Of these areas, the study identified four key areas of strength regarding flood preparedness: residential backwater valves (new house construction), flood plain mapping, land use planning and urban drainage. The report also outlined several outstanding challenges facing municipalities:

• Retail Food Supply: Cities indicated that the control over private enterprises is not within the mandate of the municipal government. Accordingly, this is not a common area of focus for flood preparedness;

• Banking and Financial Services: Cities indicated that the responsibility for banking and financial services is not within the municipal mandate, and also not a common area of focus for flood preparedness;

• Petroleum Supply: Coordination of agreements with fuel suppliers was identified as an area of challenge relative to ensuring the provision of petroleum/fuel during emergencies. Nevertheless, “some cities were able to become highly engaged with their respective petroleum suppliers in addressing this challenge,” the report said;

• Electricity Supply: While the majority of the cities surveyed have worked with electrical utilities to identify and limit flood-related electricity outages, less effort had been directed to ensuring the integrity of back-up electricity generation supply. Only the City of Ottawa indicated that sustainment of redundant power supply is included in the budget process;

• Commercial Real Estate: None of the cities surveyed indicated having a commercial real estate adaptation audit program in place; and

• Residential Backwater Valves (Retrofits): Cities indicated that there was limited uptake of voluntary, often subsidized backwater valve installation for existing houses.

Relative to strengths, the study found that most Canadian cities mandate the installation of backwater valves for new home construction – this is an effective step to prevent water from entering a house through the basement drain when sewer systems are overwhelmed during a storm, The Co-operators added in a press release. Another area of strength was the development of up-to-date flood plain maps, which most cities have undertaken to predict the extent of storm-related flood coverage. Similarly, in most cities, land use planners are using the maps to restrict building in flood prone areas. Urban drainage maintenance was also on the increase, as municipalities strive to keep culverts, grates and storm sewer systems clear in anticipation of flooding, The Co-operators reported. [click image below to enlarge]

The installation of backwater valves for new homes is an effective step to prevent water from entering a house through the basement drain when sewer systems are overwhelmed during a storm

The installation of backwater valves for new home construction is an effective step to prevent water from entering a house through the basement drain when sewer systems are overwhelmed during a storm

“Flooding is by far the most common type of natural disaster in Canada and there is a wide range of actions that can be taken to build a city’s resilience to its destructive force,” said Kathy Bardswick, president and CEO of The Co-operators, in the release. “This is a valuable piece of research that can serve as a benchmark and a resource for all Canadian cities, to help motivate them to step up their efforts to protect people and property from flooding.”

The study builds upon two previous research papers: the first, published in the fall of 2013, assessed the viability of overland flood insurance in Canada; the second, produced a year later, examined priorities for advancing flood resiliency, which were identified by the multi-stakeholder Partners for Action roundtable. All three reports are available here.