Communities wary of mapping flood risks
OTTAWA — When municipal officials across Canada were told last year about new tools to help them map the risk of flooding in their communities, they immediately raised red flags, suggesting they wanted no part of it over concerns about legal liability and political backlash.
Details contained in internal government reports echo a narrative across the country that show just how wary some civic leaders have been about mapping — and publicizing — flood risks in their communities.
As one municipal official put it, they fear releasing the information would force them to use the Tim Hortons drive-up window to avoid the ire of standing in line inside the restaurant.
The stance has mystified insurance industry representatives and local leaders who have been pushing municipalities to use new mapping tools to identify risk areas and make that information public.
“The big business case for this is we can all pay a lot more for insurance and experience the disruption, or we can invest in the infrastructure and experience less disruption to the economy and to families and lower insurance premiums,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, head of FCM’s big city mayors’ caucus. “We can learn from these disasters and actually model out where it would make sense to get ahead of the problem.”
The questions about what local officials don’t know and why they don’t want to know it have been raised anew with floods overwhelming Quebec and Ontario communities.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada created a mapping tool to figure out where there the greatest risk of flooding was, either from rising waters or overwhelming rainfall. A Calgary-based company, Tesera, is in the midst of prepping it for wider distribution.
At a session on disaster-proofing communities at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference last June, some delegates appeared to want nothing to do with the mapping tool.
A report from officials at Infrastructure Canada said that a delegate from one city worried that mapping flood risk could reduce property values in flood-prone areas where infrastructure solutions weren’t feasible. Another said local governments are reluctant to map flood risks because they could be liable for damages, “and they may not have the public or political support for infrastructure investments,” the report said.
Craig Stewart, vice-president federal affairs for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said local leaders were concerned about releasing the maps publicly, fearing owners of high-risk homes would take out their anger on local officials.
“It’s our opinion that people have a right to know their risk and in fact, Canadians should be educated about flood risk so that they can make the right decisions on how to defend themselves against it,” Stewart said.
Parliament Hill and the Ottawa skyline are seen above the turbulent, high waters of the Ottawa River on Tuesday.