Canada must do more to minimize flood risk, says climate expert

The devastating floods in B.C. and New Brunswick are a reminder to homeowners and communities to do more to minimize flood risk, according to a climate expert who says expect more extreme weather to come.

Blair Feltmate urges provincial governments to work toward long-term prevention

A man rides a bicycle in flood water inundating downtown Grand Forks, B.C. as a crew sandbags a business in the background. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
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The barrage of flooding across Canada should be considered the "new normal," according to climate expert Blair Feltmate. 

"Flooding is the number one challenge for Canada in reference to extreme weather events," Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

He argued that more preventative measures must be taken to minimize the risk of flood damage in communities and homes.

As water levels slowly recede in New Brunswick after a devastating flood hit the province this month, thousands of people in B.C.'s interior have been forced out of their homes due to swollen rivers on the rise. The epic flooding comes on the heels of record-setting heat, combined with a higher than usual snow pack and record spring rains.

After a rain storm flooded Grand Forks, B.C. last week, residents are bracing for a second wave of water off the mountains that could either re-flood the area, or add to the water levels. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

On Tuesday, the Kootenay Boundary regional district asked Ottawa for military support, as it struggles to help people in the devastated communities of Grand Forks and Christina Lake.

With a second surge of water expected in the forecast for B.C., Feltmate urged homeowners and communities across the country to work toward "longer term planning and longer term preparation" to avoid excess of flood damage.

While B.C. braces for yet another surge of flooding, many residents are unsure what to do to prevent even more damage.

A view of Krystine McInnes' organic farm in Cawston B.C., on the banks of the Similkameen River. (Submitted by Krystine McInnes)

Krystine McInnes's organic farm in Cawston, B.C., is now six feet underwater.

"We have been looking at it from the highway with shock and awe," she said, after the Similkameen River breached the farm's dikes last week.

McInnes's farm rests on a flood plain, but the well-engineered property has weathered other intense flooding situations in the past with no damage.

"We're around 60 acres so we're the largest organic farm in the region and that whole dike system has been basically blown apart," McInnes told Tremonti.

Canadians need to feel ready for the impact of climate change to affect their community because it's inevitable, says Blair Feltmate. (uwaterloo.ca)

Feltmate is also working with the federal government on an expert panel to develop a set of standards meant to offer long-term plans and solutions to mitigate flood risks.

"One is a standard for how we build new communities going forward, with fundamental features and characteristics in place that will make it such that when the big storms hit going forward they're not all flooded out," he said.

The panel is also working on developing standards to help protect existing communities — including the use of berms, cisterns and dikes — and individual homeowners, including ways to prevent basement flooding.

Despite all of this work, Feltmate said these new standards alone won't be enough.

"We really need governments particularly provincial governments, to give very strong guidance, if not in a non-negotiable direction to municipalities to say that you should be operationalizing the standards," he said.

"If you don't, you will continue to experience management by disaster."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current's Jessica Linzey and Idella Sturino.

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