ELISE STOLTE | Edmonton Journal
Edmonton residents who need overland flood insurance the most either don’t know they need it or can’t afford what’s offered, an insurance expert warned city council Monday.
It’s a national problem, Bill Adams, western vice-president for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, told council’s utility committee. When the industry polls citizens, “those Canadians who are highest at risk of flood are completely oblivious.”
“They just don’t believe they’re at risk,” said Adams, promising to show updated flood maps to Edmonton residents this spring. “We need to ensure that the flood maps, the risk, is known.”
Councillors are wrestling with how to tackle flood mitigation, how to balance the responsibility of home and business owners to insure their property and the public responsibility to reduce risks for everyone. It’s a difficult question because to rebuild all Edmonton infrastructure to protect against a one-in-100-year river flood or flash flood could cost $3.5 billion and take decades.
Edmonton should be trying to build at least enough flood protection infrastructure — stormwater ponds and larger storm sewers — to ensure private insurance agencies can offer an affordable product, said Coun. Ben Henderson.
He and many others live in the river valley, where the city approved development, he said. But overland flooding insurance for his neighbourhood, Rossdale, costs thousands of dollars. It’s unaffordable, he said.
Currently, 37 per cent of Albertans have decided to buy the new overland flood protection plans new to the market, said Adams. The provincial government has said it will stop offering emergency coverage to flooded homeowners when these policies are widespread and affordable, but hasn’t defined what that means.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada will be at this year’s Get Ready in the Park event to share flood maps the insurance industry developed. That event is in Hawrelak Park on May 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Assessing the risk
Flood risk in Edmonton is varies from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, with some facing risk from river flooding, but others far from the river facing risk from flash floods. The latter depends upon geography, but also the size and position of sewer pipes homeowners can’t see.
Flash floods hit Mill Woods and many south-central communities in 2004 and 2012. A downpour stalled over specific neighbourhoods, flooding 1,200 basements.
Epcor has taken over Edmonton’s flood mitigation work. It is developing a ranked list of priority projects for the most as-risk neighbourhoods, said Susan Ancel, Epcor’s director of stormwater strategies.
Epcor is also hoping to partner with Intact, a University of Waterloo-affiliated centre of expertise that is developing a home audit system for homeowners. The program, currently being run as a trial in several communities, sends experts to help homeowners understand the specific risks they face, get advice and then have their home rated for flood projection. The audit program would give a credit to get a reduction on insurance rates.
Ancel said city staff are also looking at Halifax and Mississauga programs, which give home and business owners credit on their utility rates if they have more permeable landscaping to absorb rainwater.