Dams Won’t Be Enough Against Climate Change Related Flooding

Sarah Sobanski

“Climate change isn’t a religion,” says Associate Professor Blair Feltmate of the University of Waterloo’s Department of the Environment. In his view, climate change isn’t a matter of belief anymore, it’s a matter of facts – and the facts say we need to start preparing for circumstances, specifically flooding, in places and at levels we might never have considered before. It isn’t a matter of degrees melting ice caps and raising water levels miles away on obscure coasts. It’s about increased rainfall and extreme weather that can take a central community like Downsview in Toronto and turn it into a sunken suburb, causing damages to local homes and turning a multi-million dollar housing market into an uninsurable flood plain.  That area is not even near water. The flood was the result of inadequate water infrastructure beneath the homes that could not absorb the volume of rain that fell not once, but three times one summer.

According to Feltmate, who spoke at ORCA’s Annual General meeting last Thursday night, more and more insurance companies are refusing to insure select housing markets – with examples in London, Toronto and Kingston – because of the risk of claims from flooding. It’s not only the residential market that is affected. Commercial properties and government infrastructure must prepare for severe weather events that can cause major damage. One of the first steps recommended by Feltmate’s project is the updating of flood plain maps to reflect the impact of rising temperatures, so areas at risk can be identified to better prepare against the unsustainable incline in damage payouts which cannot be supported by current premiums. Over the last five years, annual insurance payouts for property damage across the country has sky rocketed into the $1 billion range, up from previous years of as little as $200 million in decades prior – catastrophic and unheard of floods like the one that drenched the City of Calgary in 2013 are the cause.

With 80 per cent of energy consumption generated by fossil fuels, and a predicted population increase of 1.5 billion people by 2030, more than the worldwide population increase from 1930 to present combined, Feltmate recommends that homeowners begin preparing now to save money later. Chair of the Climate Change Adaption Project, Feltmate helps strategize preparation for single houses to corporate and city planning, including a 16 point checklist for city flood preparedness upon which Ottawa scored the highest and conserving wetlands, something ORCA can relate to. He recommends home owners have their houses assessed to identify small improvements around their homes to be better prepared for extreme weather. These changes can be small ones – from contouring the land around the foundation to draw water away from the house to stocking sump-pump battery back-ups. His suggestions make homes more flood resistant, and he envisions lower insurance premiums will eventually result.

He warns that in Canada, we have just seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of flooding. It’s nothing compared to what’s coming.

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