Canadian Underwriter

ICLR report examines legal tools to mandate stormwater management on the part of homeowners

May 24, 2017   by Canadian Underwriter

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The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction released Tuesday a report intended as an “initial discussion paper” on the issue of mandating flood risk reduction measures on the part of private property owners.

The report – Assessing local mandatory measures to reduce flood risk and inflow & infiltration in existing homes – was written by Joanna Kyriazis and Laura Zizzo of Zizzo Strategy Inc. as well as Dan Sandink, director of resilient communities and research for ICLR.

The report “explores legal tools that could be used to require private property owners in existing developments to better manage stormwater and protect against flood risk, and it examines the legal implications of applying these tools in the Canadian municipal context,” ICLR states in a summary.

“Typically when you have a basement flood event or you have a city that is prone to a lot of basement flooding, the first measure that is implemented is to engage homeowners,” Sandink said in an interview. “A lot of the risk typically originates from the private property side of the property line.”

In the report, the authors discuss, among other things, mandatory measures to disconnect improper connections to sanitary systems, including downspouts and foundation drains. They also discuss requirements for private property owners to properly maintain private sewer laterals and fix defects in those laterals.

“The typical initial approach” on the part of municipalities is education, Sandink said, adding this could include public meetings, mailing brochures and knocking on people’s doors in order to inform homeowners about the risk of basement flooding.

Some municipalities also provide subsidies to homeowners to fix problems such as disconnecting foundation drains and downspouts from the sanitary systems, Sandink suggested.

“What we found, working with municipalities, was that despite the generosity of these programs, and in many cases very aggressive education and subsidy programs – still, very large proportions of at risk homeowners do not engage in these programs,” he said.

The report is based on literature review and interviews with representatives from 13 North American jurisdictions “to assess measures that have been considered and implemented to reduce basement flood risk on private property and/or limit inflow and infiltration rates in municipal wastewater systems through application of measures on private properties,” ICLR stated.

“Connection of foundation drainage to sanitary systems presents a particular challenge, however, as expensive and potentially technically complex retrofits in the form of foundation drain disconnection and sump system installation are often required,” ICLR stated in the report. “This cost and complexity serves to reduce the likelihood that homeowners will engage in this often critical approach to private-side [inflow and infiltration] reduction.”

With the disconnections of foundation drains and downspouts, “you are dealing with buried components of your sewer infrastructure,” Sandink said. “Stuff is literally under the floor slab and you have to dig up your floor to disconnect these things but they are an important part of the overall protection of homes from basement flooding, so important in fact that it is worthwhile pursuing legal measures to disconnect these critical sources of excess water in sewer systems.”