Friday May 05, 2017

Canadian homeowners in the dark about flood risks, study suggests

The flooding in Gatineau, Que., is the worst it's been in 20 years.

The flooding in Gatineau, Que., is the worst it's been in 20 years. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Listen 19:51

During the next few days, Eastern Canada from Nova Scotia to Ontario is expected be drenched by a month's worth of rain, raising concerns about widespread flooding.

But as the rain continues to threaten many communities, many Canadians aren't even aware their homes are at risk of flooding or what to do if it happens.

A new study titled, Canadian Voices on Changing Flood Risk, surveyed 2,300 people living in high-risk flood zones across Canada. It found 94 per cent of people surveyed didn't know their homes were at risk, and most have taken no action to protect their homes from floods.

RelatedFlooding: What to do if it happens to you

In 2013, Connie Balerud's house was one of many flooded in Alberta. She was evacuated in the face of rising waters but her home in High River isn't close to the river, it wasn't in a flood zone or a high-risk area. She figured the evacuation was a precautionary step because the municipal sewer system was under strain.

Pierrefonds flood cars

Cars are submerged under water in Pierrefonds, in southwestern Quebec. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

"When we got back, it was like a blender had gone through our whole basement. Walls were falling in. There was stuff growing where it shouldn't be on the walls," she tells The Current's Friday host Nora Young.

Related: Alberta Flood 2013

There was over two metres of water in her basement, all the way up to the support beams. It took three months before they could move back in.

Balerud says she knew very little about her insurance coverage, and whether she was covered for flooding.

"You would really have to sit down and go over your policy with someone who could read the jargon and actually help you understand it," she says.  

Flood car

Some Point Gatineau residents had to abandon their cars. (CBC Ottawa)

On average, the federal government doles out about $1 billion annually for disaster relief and 75 per cent of that goes towards flood damage.

The study's co-author Jason Thistlethwaite, an assistant professor at Waterloo's School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, says homeowners not knowing about the severity of a flood risk "is a consequence of governments keeping Canadians in the dark." 

Related: Jason Thistlethwaite's recommendation on how to prevent flooding

He tells Young that flood maps that detail high-risk regions are often out-of-date and inconsistent province to province. And that insurance companies need to better inform customers about new flood protection insurance programs.

Ottawa River flooding Clarence-Rockland May 5 2017

Clarence-Rockland declared a state of emergency May 4, 2017. High water levels are expected to rise even more as a deluge of spring rain continues. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Canadians pay $600 million out of pocket annually to cover flood damage. Thistlethwaite expects that number to grow because of recent changes to government policies that has shifted more responsibility onto homeowners to protect themselves and get specific flood-protection insurance.

Insurance Bureau of Canada's Craig Stewart says flood insurance is affordable for most Canadians — usually a $100-200 premium on existing policies. But he adds that insurance in high flood-risk areas can be very expensive.

In 2013, he says the average basement claim was $250,000 in Calgary, which is considered at risk of flooding every 20 years.

Stewart suggests the insurance industry needs to work with different levels of government to do a better job of letting Canadians know where disaster assistance stops, where insurance coverage starts, and what is ultimately their responsibility when it comes to flood protection.

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley, Sujata Berry and Seher Asaf.