On­tario must pre­pare for more flood­ing

Waterloo Region Record - - EDITORIALS & COMMENT -

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Much of the prov­ince’s flood map­ping is sadly out of date and ex­po­nen­tial de­vel­op­ment is ex­ac­er­bat­ing the threat by the day.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.

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