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Ontario unveils new flooding strategy, but funding a question mark

Ontario's new flooding strategy is focusing on increasing public awareness and preparedness.

Strategy builds on recommendations from report last year on how province can improve resilience

The Muskoka River which runs through downtown Bracebridge, Ont., was affected by floodwater in 2019. Ontario's new flooding strategy is focusing on increasing public awareness and preparedness. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Ontario's new flooding strategy is focusing on increasing public awareness and preparedness, but it's not clear if it will come with any new funding.

Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski announced in Minden, Ont., that the strategy builds on the recommendations from a report last year on spring flooding that saw 23 municipalities and one First Nation declare a state of emergency.

"We know that we can't prevent flooding in Ontario — we can only become more resilient to it," Yakabuski said. "Our strategy is designed to increase public awareness and help us to be better prepared and equipped to respond to the devastating effects of flooding."

Special adviser Doug McNeil said that heavy rains, melting snow and a sudden temperature increase led to the flooding across the province last year.

The minister was asked at a news conference if the strategy comes with any more money, but said that wasn't the topic of the announcement.

"Our strategy is not about funding," Yakabuski said. "This is the announcement of a strategy today. We'll be dealing with those things as the flood events take place."

A home on Beaumont Farm Road in Bracebridge, Ont., where many homes were flooded last year, sinks into the ground after falling from its pilings. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The Progressive Conservative government was criticized last year when it cut conservation authorities' funding for flood management in half.

Since then, it has launched a $1-million pilot project to help municipalities rebuild damaged infrastructure. It also announced a multi-year study to assess the impacts of climate change, and an advisory panel on climate change.

NDP environment critic Ian Arthur criticized Yakabuski's comment that the announcement was "not about funding."

"How does the minister expect flood prevention to happen if his government has taken the very resources needed to ensure communities and property are kept safe?" he said in a statement.

"Today's announcement by [Premier Doug] Ford's minister of natural resources makes clear that this government will not reverse its cuts to much-needed flooding prevention programs. In fact, today's announcement did not include one thin dime."

The Progressive Conservative government was criticized last year when it cut conservation authorities' funding for flood management in half. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Yakabuski said the strategy's priority areas include increasing access to flood-related information, using science and technology to enhance preparedness, and improving how the province responds to requests for assistance from municipalities.

It also makes "working with the federal government" to increase mapping and infrastructure investment one of its priorities.

"In order to carry out certain activities related to flood risk mitigation, we will need to work with the federal government to secure the required funding," the strategy says.

"It is also acknowledged that with several agencies involved in flood management, funding should also be shared and opportunities for collaboration explored."

Province wants feds to do more

The province is calling on the federal government to extend its National Disaster Mitigation Program.

Other parts of the flooding strategy include establishing a flood-mapping technical team with agencies from all three levels of government, conservation authorities and academics, creating a public education and outreach program on flooding risks, setting up real-time monitoring of sewage overflows from municipal wastewater systems into Ontario's lakes and rivers, and accounting for climate change in the design and rehabilitation of drainage works.

The strategy also seeks to enhance the early warning system, develop ways citizens can play a role in collecting rainfall and snow information, work with federal officials to integrate new satellite data into flood- and ice-condition mapping for northern rivers, and use emergency management software to help communicate with municipalities.

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