Future floods: Climate change’s role in reshaping natural disasters

Warming planet increases the likelihood of flooding in the future, says federal government

CBC News

As water levels rose along the St. John River this spring, many New Brunswickers had two reactions.

First, they prepared urgently for the flood.

Then they asked themselves whether this was evidence of climate change — whether two major floods in two years proves that human activity has altered the forces of nature.

“Things have certainly changed,” Elaine Price of Mill Cove said as she watched the water rise toward her home last month.

In Chipman, Rhonda Saulnier was asking the same question.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said.

“So now that it’s happened two years in a row, like everybody I’m afraid it’s the new norm. I’m praying it’s not.”

Water levels peaked in Fredericton on April 23 at 8.36 metres, compared with a peak of 8.31 metres last year. In Saint John, the peak was 5.53 metres compared with 5.76 metres last year.

For the second straight year, homes were evacuated. For the second straight year, the Trans-Canada Highway was closed downriver from Fredericton.

Even officials who oversee flood response seemed taken aback.

“When this event happened last year, we were under the impression this was a historical event, and two years in a row, the historical event happened,” said Ahmed Dassouki, the director of operations at the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“It’s a new day, and two years in a row is telling us we can’t just do the same thing,” Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters.

Yes, this is climate change — probably

Is this climate change?

The answer isn’t straightforward, but the consensus is: yes, probably, likely.

“You can’t attribute one event to climate change,” said Barrie Bonsal, a senior research scientist with Environment Canada, who co-authored a major report on climate change released last month.

“But as we warm the atmosphere, and we see associated impacts, we are increasing the probability of certain types of events that are associated with warming.”

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Data reveals scope, damage of spring floods in Quebec & New Brunswick

New data from Statistics Canada is revealing the scale and scope of this spring’s devastating flooding in Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

More than 600 square kilometres of land suffered flooding this year, according to maps created by Statistics Canada, which used satellite data from the Canadian Space Agency and information from Natural Resources Canada.

The data gathered over the last two weeks of April was used to take a closer look at southern Manitoba, the Fredericton-Saint John area in New Brunswick, the Ottawa-Gatineau region and Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, northwest of Montreal.

The agency reported Friday about 17,500 homes in the affected areas were either hit by flooding or considered at risk.

About 153 square kilometres of agricultural land flooded much of it in Manitoba which could have an impact on the 2019 growing season. The data also indicated some 460 kilometres of roadways were either washed out or cut off by rising rivers.

Some municipalities were harder hit than others this spring particularly in Quebec and New Brunswick. Parts of Ontario and Quebec have yet to see a reprieve from flooding.

About 29 percent of homes were flooded or at risk of flooding in Pontiac, Que., about 45 kilometres west of Ottawa. In Ste-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, northwest of Montreal, 25 percent of residences were hit by flooding or at risk.

The agency said it intends to put together more reports on the 2019 floods as more information becomes available.

Statistics Canada spokesman Fabrice Mosseray said,  “the rationale for producing such data is to contribute to public understanding of, and discussion on, the impact of such events to Canadians, and how to improve response in future events.”

Provinces asking feds for $138 million to help buy out flooded properties

By Jordan Press

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ Flood-ravaged provinces are asking the federal government to provide almost $138 million to move or buy out homeowners affected by previous years’ inundations, according to new data that gives a glimpse into the national costs of helping residents leave floodplains.

Calculations based on previous experience suggest that the total cost of giving up on 100,000 of the most endangered structures could run into the billions.

Only four times in the past decade have provinces turned to the federal treasury for help to move homes twice in New Brunswick, and once each in Quebec and Yukon.

In New Brunswick’s case, the federal government picked up more than 80 per cent of the $1.8 million spent to buy out a combined 36 properties after flooding in 2008 and 2010.

Public Safety Canada says provinces and territories have asked for $137.9 million in federal money to help cover costs related to 10 floods, but the dollar figure is only an estimate and doesn’t include this year’s.

The department says it expects to get more requests for financial help to relocate homes as the frequency of extreme flooding increases and wants to know how much provinces and territories have spent on it without federal help.

All that data will feed into a debate governments are having about whether it’s better to move people off floodplains rather than repeatedly pay for repairs.

Federal help for disaster relief kicks in once costs surpass what lower levels of government could reasonably be expected to cover on their own.

Within the program, called the “Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements,” is a provision that allows provinces to claim the cost of relocating residents to areas less prone to floods or other disasters. Federal funding can also be used to buy out affected homeowners and dismantle damaged buildings.

How much gets doled out depends on the design of the buyout program, which has become a point in discussions between Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and his provincial and territorial counterparts.

A program could provide money up to a pre-set maximum, which is what Quebec’s government is offering this year up to $200,000 to anyone with severe damage to their homes. Or it could pay the full estimated value of a home before it was flooded, as Alberta did after flooding there in 2013.

In that case, about one-third of homeowners who were offered buyouts took them within a year of the offer, costing the province $81 million in 2014. Alberta covered the bill itself, without federal assistance.

Based on the data available, the federal government has paid, on average, about $41,000 for each property owner who accepted previous buyouts in New Brunswick.

This year, New Brunswick is offering up to $160,000 for each home where damage exceeds 80 per cent of its pre-flood value. Owners can sell their buildings and have them demolished and levelled but retain their land. They can also sell out entirely, or take up to $160,000 to use on repairs in exchange for giving up any future disaster aid.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates about 100,000 homes out of the 14 million dwellings Statistics Canada counted in the 2016 census _ are at the highest risk of repeat flood damage. A buyout program for those properties could cost the federal treasury hundreds of millions of dollars based on the limited information available about previous federal disaster help, in addition to what provincial governments put up.

“No government bailout program or insurance program is going to be able to deal with those repeated cases where you’re going to have repeated claims in a short period of time. That’s where you may focus buyouts,” said Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“In our view, the calculation is buy out a few and then protect and insure the rest.”

Ontario creating task force to improve flooding resilience

TORONTO _ Ontario is creating a task force on improving the province’s resilience to flooding, following high water levels this spring in several communities.

Premier Doug Ford and Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski said in a statement that the government will work to better plan for and reduce the impacts of flooding.

“Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen first-hand the devastating effect of flooding on our communities,” they said in the statement Friday. “The people of Ontario can’t go through this every year. Something needs to change.”

The task force will consult with municipalities, including in the Muskoka region, Pembroke and the Ottawa Valley.

Ontario has activated a disaster recovery assistance program for residents in Bracebridge, Huntsville, Pembroke, Renfrew County, Ottawa, Clarence-Rockland, Champlain and Alfred and Plantagenet.

The program helps cover emergency expenses and the costs to repair or replace essential property not covered by insurance after a natural disaster.

The task force announcement comes not long after the Progressive Conservative government cut conservation authorities’ funding for flood management in half.

Conservation authorities forecast flooding and issue warnings, monitor stream flow, regulate development activities in flood plains, educate the public about flooding and protect natural cover that helps reduce the impacts of flooding.

Ontario had given $7.4 million to the conservation authorities for that work, but they say that has now been reduced by 50 per cent.

Yakabuski has said the government is trying to eliminate the deficit _ currently at $11.7 billion and has asked conservation authorities to focus on their core mandate, which includes flood control.

NDP environment critic Ian Arthur said the task force should start by reversing those cuts.

“Any review of flood management in Ontario should begin with undoing the damage done by the (Doug) Ford Conservatives,” Arthur said in a statement.

First your home is flooded – then you lose your mortgage?

By  | Global News

When flooding ravaged parts of southern Alberta in 2013, banks and other lenders took notice.

“We would be asked on every deal, ‘Is it in the flood zone?’” Mike Boyle, president of Calgary-based The Mortgage Group, told Global News.

Lenders didn’t want to get involved with addresses that turned out to be in the disaster areas, he recalled.

Six years later, with the flood a “distant memory,” that’s no longer an issue, according to Boyle. But he worries about homeowners in regions like southeastern Ontario and Quebec, where rivers seem to be overflowing with alarming regularity.

“You can’t get a mortgage if you can’t get insurance,” he said.

Speaking from the Ottawa-Gatineau area, which is experiencing its second major flood in the span of 24 months, licensed insolvency trustee John Haralovich shares the same concern.

“We have seen lenders not agree to renew the mortgage,” said Haralovich, a senior vice-president at debt consultancy firm MNP.

Those have been rare cases so far, he said, but that could change.

“In 2017, they said (the flood) was a once-in-100-year occurrence, and two years later, it’s happened again,” he said.

Homeowners who discover they can’t continue their insurance coverage may also hear from banks that they won’t keep servicing their mortgage once it comes up for renewal, he added. With no insurance to protect the collateral, mortgages on homes in flood-prone areas may become too risky for mainstream lenders, he said.

Several experts who spoke to Global News are concerned that a growing number of Canadians may find themselves facing this issue after the latest round of spring flooding.

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Flood insurance difficult to obtain for homeowners at repeated risk

By Jonathan Forani, CTVNews.ca

More Canadians have flood insurance than ever, but homeowners at repeated risk still face the most difficulty obtaining coverage, according to lobbyists.

Insurance for “overland flooding,” from rising water levels rather than sewer backups or roof seepage, has only been offered by insurers across the country since 2015. Now, about a third of Canadians have it, according to Craig Stewart of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

But homeowners in high-risk flood zones who may require repeated claims have limited options.

“Presently there really is not affordable high-risk insurance available for those that are going to be at repeated risk of flooding,” said Stewart in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning. Stewart, who leads a task force of insurers, realtors and local governments, presented recommendations to ministers earlier this year on how to protect high-risk homeowners.

“For those that are at repeated risk, we are recommending to governments that they take a hard look at strategic retreat, getting those people out of harm’s way,” he said.

Any official final solution based off the task force recommendations is likely a year away, he added. Until then, homeowners facing repeated risk of flooding have few options, as their needs would have to be subsidized by taxpayers or other policy holders, he said.

Some homeowners in that group have taken “drastic” measures to avoid risk, he said, such as putting their homes on stilts. Stewart recommends it.

“Or you just absolutely reduce your risk by either moving or just making sure you’re taking everything out of your low lying area or your basement that’s going to reduce any future claim,” he said.

According to a 2017 report by the Munk School of Global Affairs, flood-related losses have surpassed fire and theft as the primary source of property insurance claims. Despite increasing claims, a lot of Canadians aren’t even aware they live in a floodplain until they get flooded, said Stewart.

“Canadians first and foremost should understand what their risk level is,” he said.

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