Province considering strategy to tackle local flooding and erosion

Erosion along the bluffs at the beach along Lake Erie in Wheatley Provincial Park. November 9, 2019. (Photo by Matt Weverink)

The province’s special advisor on flooding is urging the government to work closer with local conservation authorities to reduce flooding.

Doug McNeil was appointed in July and released a 157-page report on Thursday with 66 recommendations after conducting an independent review of flood management and 2019 flooding events in Ontario.

He wants the provincial, federal, and municipal governments to work with the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) and the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) to tackle a coordinated short and long term strategy to address the existing and expected impacts to Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex, and Pelee Island as a result of current and future water levels, flood and erosion hazards, and climate change on Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River. Other recommendations include maintaining at least the current level of provincial funding in departmental budgets and programs related to flooding, continuing to fund the province’s Water Erosion Control Infrastructure program, considering the adoption of a multi-year budget for some larger maintenance projects that may span many years, and reviewing the provincial funding formula for eligibility of municipalities under the Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance program.

McNeil also said the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program should be flexible enough to allow the removal of a structure from the floodplain or buyout it out if it is the only technically and financially feasible option.

“Buyouts can be beneficial when it is anticipated that the cost of frequent emergency responses and disaster assistance costs will outweigh the cost of providing those homeowners with fair market value for their homes,” McNeil wrote. “These programs can be highly contentious depending on how market value is determined and whether these programs are optional or forced onto residents in high-risk areas.”

His review confirmed that this year’s record-setting flooding in many parts of the province was caused by a colder-than-average winter and spring, higher-than-average snowpack, lack of significant winter thaw, rapid snowmelt, and significant rain events in the spring.

McNeil said currently there are too many policy gaps, outdated thinking, and outdated technology involved in flood management.

“The public should understand that the risk of flooding cannot be eliminated, but it can be reduced,” said McNeil.

The flood advisor also wants a “build back better” component under the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program and the “build back better” pilot under the Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance program moved to a full program.

“This is a very important program, as the investment to ‘build back better’ will reduce flood damage in future events and therefore provides a return on the investment,” the report stated.

McNeil said the province is in talks with the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the federal government to find out what is needed to make flood insurance more available to more Ontarians through increased identification and management of flood risks.

“Effective hazard maps are a pre-condition for establishing an effective flood insurance program,” the report stated. “The risks associated with offering flood insurance cannot be adequately assessed without accurate, up-to-date mapping.”

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said 16 insurers now offer overland flood products.

The province said it is reviewing the recommendations and will work together with its partners “to increase the awareness of flood risks and help build Ontario’s resiliency to flooding.”

The LTVCA and ERCA wrote the provincial flood advisor in September to tell him that more needs to be done to restrict development within hazard areas and more provincial funding is required to address flooding and to relocate and rebuild damaged homes.

“We are very thankful to Mr. McNeil and the Province for recognizing the serious and longstanding challenges that the many residents in our low-lying region continue to experience are different than those in other parts of Ontario,” said Richard Wyma, ERCA’s general manager. “We look forward to urgently working with all levels of government toward implementing these recommendations and continuing to reduce flooding risks for those most vulnerable.”