The biblical tale of Noah and the flood is becoming more relevant than ever in Canada, according to recent climate studies. Given that global warming is becoming widespread, the weather’s vagaries will bring more flooding our way. However, given proper planning and remedial measures, it may not be time to build your ark just yet.
More Floods Today?
It’s not your imagination that Canada has had more severe floods recently than in the past. Data from the Canadian Disaster Database indicate that while there were only three significant floods in the decade from 1900 to 1909, 90 years later, significant floods were 19 times more prevalent with 57 significant floods occurring between 1990 and 1999.
The database defines a flood as significant if it meets one or more of these criteria:
- 10 or more people killed
- 100 or more people affected/injured/infected/evacuated or homeless
- an appeal for national/international assistance
- historical significance
- significant damage/interruption of normal processes such that the community affected cannot recover on its own.”
What About the Future of Flooding in Canada?
Flooding today doesn’t necessarily mean flooding tomorrow, but the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research has predicted that we’d best prepare for “water, water everywhere,” to quote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” A 2016 research paper from the Center predicts more frequent major rainfalls, the type of downpours that lead to flooding, mudslides and infrastructure damage. (More snowstorms and ice storms are also on the schedule.) In fact, the paper suggests that large areas of Canada and the Western U.S. will see a five-fold increase in what it calls “extreme precipitation events.”
The reason is straightforward: climate change. As temperatures increase worldwide, weather patterns are changing. Warmer air holds more moisture than cold, so storms coming from the south are generally warm and full of precipitation, said the National Post.
The study notes that a temperature increase of one degree allows the air to hold 12 percent more moisture and would cause the intensity of precipitation to increase by approximately seven percent.
Are Canadians Ready for Warmer Temperatures?
Canadians with winter fatigue may view climate change as a positive if it brings warmer temperatures, but the coming floods will be more severe than the annual spring melt that you anticipate.
Floods and Preparing for the Worst
- A 2016 study from the University of Waterloo about climate change and Canadian preparedness for limiting flood damage assessed the readiness of individual provinces to handle flooding now and in the future.
- Unfortunately, the average grade for all of the Canadian provinces and the Yukon was C-.
- Ontario led the pack with a grade of B, with B.C. bringing up the rear with a grade of D and the others falling in between. Not terribly encouraging for citizens, given that the weather will be undergoing drastic changes, although there are some positives.
- Foremost among them is the capacity of hospitals and the local healthcare system to continue delivering services to the public during floods. Hospitals have always had to plan for disasters of all kinds, and they are generally ready to cope.
The weaknesses the provinces demonstrated include:
- No commercial property adaptation audits are required, so commercial property owners are not forced to evaluate and prepare for flood risks.
- Home adaptation audits are not universal, so many homeowners are not required to evaluate the risk of basement flooding and prepare for it.
- The failure of land-use planning to restrict development in flood plain areas, making flooding more likely.
How Can Governments Better Prepare Canadians for Floods?
There are preventive steps that governments can take to prevent floods or mitigate other effects of flooding. The University of Waterloo report identifies key actions that will help to limit future flood risk:
- Put someone in charge. Provinces should each appoint a chief adaptation officer (CAO) who would have responsibility for identifying areas of strength and weakness with regard to flood preparedness and determining the actions necessary to reduce risk. The CAO would also be responsible for ensuring that all disaster resources are deployed, whether or not all of the players involved formally report to the provincial government.
- Evaluate and report. Provinces should create a regular reporting cycle for audits of the issues related to flooding, such as drainage system maintenance, drinking water system safety, transportation and electricity supply.
- Land use planning. Provinces should restrict development in flood-prone areas and ensure that those areas already developed have plans in place to mitigate damage. They should not permit municipalities to overrule provincial dictates with regard to flooding and development.
In addition to the usual rains and seasonal snowmelt, climate change poses an additional threat to life in Canada. However, with proper preparation, we should be able to cope with the changes that are threatening to turn the Great White North into the Great Wet North.