Ontario must prepare for more flooding
Flooding across the American south has reawakened that nation to the perils of extreme weather, but Canadians must also take heed.
Toronto in 2013 experienced flash flooding, the same year Calgary was submerged a half a continent away. Montreal declared a state of emergency just last May after flooding. The Great Lakes rose alarmingly this spring.
Although it varies across regions, Canada has become wetter since the 1950s. Across the continent, heavy storms are getting more destructive, winds stronger, rains heavier.
Simply put, severe storms are more common, but the idea that we must adapt and prepare is perhaps not as obvious.
Much of the province’s flood mapping is sadly out of date and exponential development is exacerbating the threat by the day.
We are simply not sufficiently prepared for an intense weather event.
Hurricane Hazel is but a terrifying and distant memory for those across this region who lived through it, and little more than a historical curiosity for those who were not yet born. We would all do well to refresh our memories.
Many lessons learned and provisions established following that event in 1954 have served us well, but we have been too complacent in recent years, especially in light of obvious climate changes, and the widespread growth of paved surfaces in developed areas.
The first step should be to update the province’s flooding maps, which hasn’t been done for decades. Conservation Ontario, the umbrella group for Ontario’s conservation authorities, called for comprehensive update of floodplain maps in a report in 2013.
Citing climate change, increased development, and a lack of sustainable investment in various efforts to mitigate flooding, the group estimated then that updating the maps would cost about $130 million, a sum most of us would recognize as a drop in the bucket compared to the costs of cleanup and repair after a major flooding event.
There are federal grants for conservation initiatives, but without provincial help for mapping, most conservation authorities cannot afford the expense.
The exercise would allow others to plan accordingly, including municipalities, developers, homeowners and insurance companies, who at the moment have difficulty assessing the potential flooding risks in much of Ontario.
Scenes from across the southern United States this week should act as a grim and urgent reminder of the havoc that storms can wreak, the tragic loss of life they can cause, and the costs that are now piling up in their wake.
Do we really need our own scenes closer to home in order to act?
Weather is unpredictable, no amount of planning can protect us against catastrophic events, and government cannot protect us against everything, but Ontario could do more to help cities mitigate what those such as Jacksonville, Florida, or Houston, Texas, have endured in recent weeks.