FLOOD MITIGATION AN IS­SUE THAT CAN’T WAIT

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - ANNE JARVIS ajarvis@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/win­star­jarvis

The sky burst over Burling­ton in 2014, swamp­ing the city with 185 mil­lime­tres of rain in eight hours. Thirty-five hun­dred homes flooded. There was more than five feet of wa­ter in Mayor Rick Goldring’s base­ment.

To­day, Burling­ton doesn’t wait for res­i­dents to call 311 or ap­ply for a sump pump sub­sidy. It sends in­spec­tors to their homes to ad­vise them to get their prop­erty as­sessed for flood risks.

A storm poured 126 mm of rain on Toronto in 2013. More than 4,700 homes flooded. Since then, the city has carved ponds and a wet­land into five parks and cre­ated green spa­ces in boule­vards, in­ter­sec­tions and park­ing lots, all to ab­sorb wa­ter or re­lease it into sew­ers slowly.

Kitch­ener didn’t have enough money for stormwa­ter in­fra­struc­ture. So it started charg­ing prop­erty own­ers based on the amount of im­per­me­able sur­face on their prop­erty. If you have a hu­mon­gous park­ing lot that sends run-off into sew­ers, you pay more. If you have green space to ab­sorb wa­ter, you pay less. You can re­duce the amount you pay by re­duc­ing run-off with rain bar­rels, rain gar­dens, per­me­able pave­ment and other mea­sures.

The big­gest ef­fect of cli­mate change in Canada is flood­ing — “too much wa­ter in the wrong places,” says Univer­sity of Water­loo Prof. Blair Felt­mate, chair of a new fed­eral govern­ment panel on adapt­ing to cli­mate change. And most cities aren’t pre­pared.

“You’ll hear from city en­gi­neers, from may­ors, ‘No­body can be pre­pared for this mag­ni­tude of storm,’” he said. “Yeah, you’re still go­ing to get dam­age, but on the pe­riph­ery, you can cer­tainly at­ten­u­ate the costs. It’s far, far cheaper to adapt.”

Said Coun. Irek Kus­mier­czyk, who had a list of ques­tions for city staff af­ter the lat­est flood here, “I heard loud and clear res­i­dents want us to go fur­ther, much fur­ther. They want us to look at both con­ven­tional so­lu­tions — sew­ers — but also un­con­ven­tional so­lu­tions and best prac­tices.”

Wind­sor spent a record $273 mil­lion on sew­ers be­tween 2009 and 2016, more than dou­ble what it spent the pre­vi­ous eight years. It’s map­ping the city’s sew­ers, iden­ti­fy­ing prob­lems and de­vel­op­ing a mas­ter plan to solve them. It of­fers free and sub­si­dized mea­sures for home­own­ers, from dis­con­nect­ing down­spouts from sew­ers to in­stalling sump pumps.

Yet there have been more than 6,100 re­ports of flooded base­ments since the storm that dumped more than 200 mm of rain on the city last month.

A new eight-point plan will con­sider mak­ing it manda­tory to dis­con­nect down­spouts, pay the en­tire cost of sump pumps and back­flow valves, ex­pe­dite sewer re­place­ment along part of River­side Drive and ex­pe­dite the mas­ter plan, among other mea­sures.

“We’re do­ing ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing we can,” Mayor Drew Dilkens has said.

We’re do­ing a lot of things right, said Kus­mier­czyk, but he said: “You re­al­ize when you see what other cities are do­ing how much more we could be do­ing.”

Wind­sor and Burling­ton both of­fer home in­spec­tions and sub­si­dies. Here’s the dif­fer­ence: Burling­ton of­fers a 50-point as­sess­ment cov­er­ing not only sewer back-ups and over­land flood risks but how to re­duce mois­ture that causes mould and mildew, re­duc­ing dam­age to con­tents, man­ag­ing wa­ter on your prop­erty, in­sur­ance, a helpline, fol­lowup with the in­spec­tor and main­te­nance re­minders.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence is that Burling­ton doesn’t wait for res­i­dents to ask. It sends in­spec­tors door to door in­tro­duc­ing the pro­gram. They hope to reach 4,000 homes.

“All the pro­grams in the world are no good if peo­ple are not tak­ing ad­van­tage of them,” said Goldring, whose city is spend­ing $50,000 to sub­si­dize the in­spec­tions and ob­tained $237,000 from the pro­vin­cial govern­ment.

Of the 6,100 peo­ple in Wind­sor who re­ported flooded base­ments, “the vast, vast ma­jor­ity said they haven’t taken ad­van­tage of the pro­gram,” said city en­gi­neer Mark Win­ter­ton. Even af­ter the city ad­ver­tised it ex­ten­sively and hired more in­spec­tors.

An av­er­age of only four to seven per cent of peo­ple in Canada use these pro­grams.

But about 30 per cent of res­i­dents in Burling­ton are get­ting in­spec­tions — even though they cost $125. A home­owner can make many of the rec­om­mended changes in a week­end for sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars and re­duce the chance of flood­ing from 80 per cent to 20 per cent, said Felt­mate, whose In­tact Cen­tre for Cli­mate Adap­ta­tion at the Univer­sity of Water­loo is re­search­ing the im­pact of the pro­gram.

Five years ago, Wind­sor was one of the first cities its size to ap­prove a cli­mate change adap­ta­tion plan. It called for a green roof pol­icy, en­hanced green space, more trees, rain gar­dens, test­ing por­ous pave­ment and dis­con­nect­ing down­spouts, all to bet­ter han­dle wa­ter from in­tense storms.

To­day, there are green roofs on sev­eral mu­nic­i­pal build­ings, in­clud­ing the new city hall, but no pol­icy. A 15-square-me­tre rain gar­den is be­ing tested at Ojib­way Na­ture Cen­tre.

The city plants 2,000 more trees a year, though there’s no tree-cut­ting by­law. A new, in­fil­tra­tion trench will cap­ture ad­di­tional run-off from the ex­panded park­ing lot at South Wind­sor Recre­ation Com­plex. An in­fil­tra­tion trench and dry ponds have been added at sev­eral parks. There are stormwa­ter ponds in south and east Wind­sor. Dis­con­nect­ing down­spouts still isn’t manda­tory.

So­lu­tions in other cities don’t al­ways work here. Wa­ter doesn’t eas­ily flow through Wind­sor’s mostly hard, clay soil. Still, “we’re very much in the early stages of this,” ad­mit­ted Win­ter­ton.

“I don’t think green in­fra­struc­ture is taken se­ri­ously,” said Derek Coron­ado of the Cit­i­zens En­vi­ron­ment Al­liance. “There’s a lack of knowl­edge about green in­fra­struc­ture.”

It won’t re­place sew­ers, he said. But our sew­ers, even new ones, can’t han­dle these storms alone.

“We have to do more than just tra­di­tional meth­ods,” he said. “How many floods do you have to go through be­fore you use every tool at your dis­posal?”

One of the main rea­sons base­ments flood is we’ve paved over our cities, leav­ing no place for the del­uge to go. The cheap­est way to help ad­dress that is pro­tect­ing and en­hanc­ing re­main­ing green space. Leav­ing nat­u­ral wet­lands in ur­ban areas can re­duce the cost of flood­ing more than 38 per cent, ac­cord­ing to a Univer­sity of Water­loo study.

Kitch­ener be­lieves it’s only fair that prop­erty own­ers pay for the amount of storm wa­ter they send into sew­ers.

“The mu­nic­i­pal­ity will do as much as we can on mu­nic­i­pal in­fra­struc­ture, but there’s a lot of pri­vate prop­erty. They’re ei­ther contributing to the problem or contributing to the so­lu­tion,” said stormwa­ter util­ity man­ager Nick Gol­lan. “What we’re try­ing to do is have an in­cen­tive to en­cour­age prop­erty own­ers to con­trib­ute to the so­lu­tion. That’s the only way we’re go­ing to have a real im­pact across the whole city.”

The av­er­age home­owner’s fee is only $12.50 a month and pays the en­tire cost of stormwa­ter man­age­ment. Kitch­ener and Water­loo were the first cities to do this, in 2010. It wasn’t easy. Peo­ple called it a “rain tax.” Kitch­ener got 300 calls a day at first. Now, the city is con­sid­er­ing of­fer­ing grants to off­set the cost of mea­sures like per­me­able pave­ment for drive­ways.

And more cities are fol­low­ing. Mis­sis­sauga is the lat­est.

“As cli­mate change con­tin­ues to take its toll, peo­ple are pay­ing more at­ten­tion to it,” Gol­lan said. “I’ve been talk­ing to cities from Victoria, B.C., to Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia, pick­ing my brain on this.”

Like most Cana­dian cities, Wind­sor’s flood plain maps, show­ing where wa­ter from a big storm will go, are also decades out of date, done in the late 1970s and early 1980s and up­dated in 1991. The city — and weather — have changed.

“We need to know, when big storms hit, where the wa­ter is go­ing to go,” said Felt­mate. “Right now, we’re driv­ing blind.”

But map­ping a wa­ter­shed like Turkey Creek can cost $1 mil­lion. Nei­ther the On­tario govern­ment nor mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which fund con­ser­va­tion au­thor­i­ties that con­duct map­ping, have pro­vided enough money.

“Zero-based bud­get­ing does not al­low for these works to pro­ceed,” said Tim Byrne, the Es­sex Re­gion Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity’s wa­ter­shed man­age­ment di­rec­tor.

Felt­mate be­lieves cities should have not only a “chief re­siliency of­fi­cer” to lead adap­ta­tion to cli­mate change but un­dergo ex­ter­nal au­dits every five years to de­ter­mine if mea­sures are be­ing es­tab­lished. Can smaller cities af­ford that?

“It could save you hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars,” he said.

The cost of re­peated flood­ing is far more than the $175 mil­lion to homes in Wind­sor this time. The im­pact on home­own­ers’ men­tal health is “enor­mous,” said Felt­mate. Every time it rains, peo­ple get up in the mid­dle of the night to check their base­ments. They’re afraid to leave their homes dur­ing the day.

“They’re scared to death wa­ter is go­ing to come flow­ing up,” he said.

This isn’t just a problem for those whose base­ments flood. Cities across Canada have grow­ing sec­tors of homes that are unin­sur­able for floods, said Felt­mate. Al­most half of Cana­di­ans have only one month of dis­pos­able in­come. Flood­ing causes an av­er­age of $42,000 dam­age to a base­ment.

“It’s rea­son­able to pre­dict we’re go­ing to see a spike in mort­gage de­faults,” he said.

He has joined with a large com­mer­cial bank to study mort­gage de­faults af­ter floods in 20 cities in Canada. Wind­sor is one of those cities. Be­cause some home­own­ers can’t get flood in­sur­ance and the city has suf­fered two ma­jor floods in a year, “you’re in the equa­tion to see peo­ple po­ten­tially de­fault on mort­gages,” he said.

In cities like these, there’s po­ten­tial for prop­erty val­ues to fall and for the city to no longer be an at­trac­tive place to live or start a business.

“We do not have the lux­ury of time,” said Felt­mate. “We have to get on with adap­ta­tion im­me­di­ately. It (the ef­fects of cli­mate change) is here, and it’s go­ing to get worse. The sci­ence is abun­dantly clear.”

DAX MELMER

Ka­rina Richters, su­per­vi­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and cli­mate change with the city, stands on the wa­ter-re­tain­ing green roof of the Lou Ro­mano Wa­ter Recla­ma­tion Plant.

DAX MELMER

A newly con­structed in­fil­tra­tion trench is shown in the park­ing lot of the South Wind­sor Arena.

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