How we’re preparing for more and more big floods

Looking downtown from Riverfront Ave in Calgary, during the Alberta floods 2013. Image: Ryan L. C. Quan credit

Looking downtown from Riverfront Ave in Calgary, during the Alberta floods of 2013. Image: Ryan L. C. Quan, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Heavy rain – really heavy rain – that falls more often. Sound familiar?

Why we’re seeing more damaging downpours may be controversial in political circles. But here it is.

Cities, municipalities and insurance companies are tasked with cleaning up and rebuilding after yet another storm, or 100-year flood. They’re on the front line, looking for ways to mitigate those impacts. Indeed, these groups often seem to be ahead of federal efforts, which get bogged down by the political debate.

One example in Canada can be seen in a just-announced project spearheaded by an insurance company, Intact Financial, and the University of Waterloo. According to this University press release, 20 projects were selected for implementation from 75 proposals submitted from across Canada:

They will focus primarily on reducing the impact of torrential precipitation on municipal infrastructure through the restoration of urban wetlands and water channels, and the deployment of green infrastructure initiatives such as rain gardens, bio-swales and permeable surface parking lots and roadways.

Projects will also focus on efforts to limit coastal erosion in proximity to major cities. In addition to adaptation applied to infrastructure, education campaigns will promote practical measures that homeowners can engage around their homes to help stop basement flooding.

“As a society, Canada must adapt to the new climate reality, and ensure that our cities, communities, infrastructure and buildings are resilient to extreme weather,” said Charles Brindamour, Chief Executive Officer of Intact Financial Corporation.

According to a Canadian Press account in the Ottawa Citizen, “De-pave Paradise” projects will include Ottawa and Kingston.

Five cities across Canada will see some of their asphalt torn up and replaced with porous brick and gravel this summer to help mitigate the flash flooding that frequently follows extreme rainfall.

I’m not familiar with flooding patterns in Kingston, but Ottawa definitely needs better ways to handle storm runoff. (That should include wiser planning to avoid the type of development in flood plains that exacerbates such problems in the first place – with or without climate change.)

Montréal will see some of this work too, according to the same UW press release:

Nature-Action Québec will convert an alleyway on the island of Montreal, removing part of the asphalt, planting trees and vegetation, and adding lattice stone pavement to reduce flooding due to stormwater or sewer backups. This project will also help reduce heat island-related problems.

Dealing with unusually large amounts of water has become a huge problem across North America. Last year alone, parts of Alberta (including Calgary) and Toronto experienced severe flooding that was blamed for some fatalities along with massive disruptions and damage.

The Citizen article details project funding:

The 20 projects are receiving about $700,000 in direct funding from Intact, including about $75,000 for the depaving projects, which will remove at least 250 square meters of pavement.

In the greater scheme of things that’s not much pavement reduction. But presumably the projects are intended to test or demonstrate better ways to deal with storm water in cities, not to solve the entire problem on the private sector’s dime.

Those who have lived through major flooding would probably agree this issue needs more attention sooner rather than later.

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2 Comments on “How we’re preparing for more and more big floods”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    What do you mean by we?
    Maybe you might be preparing but I’m not.
    Where I live, the new WTC would need to be underwater before I have to worry about flooding.

  2. Ken hall says:

    In as much as the roughly 0.7 degree C rise of the average temperature of the Earth over the past 150 years, the majority occurring in the last 50 or so, is demonstratively wreaking inexorably disadvantageous changes to the habitability of the Earth for all of her critters, and yes we are one of those critters; perhaps the current conservative approach of the continued acquisition of and hoarding of obscene wealth by and for a very small percentage of humans is something we of the majority ought to investigate the changing of. Tinkering about with eyewash test projects of 250 square meters (about 50 by 50 feet or a very small front yard) are laugh out loud ridiculous. At 0.7 C average temperature rise the rapid changes, such as the loss of ice and the rising of the oceans on the Earth, are becoming staggeringly apparent. Currently the contentions by scientists, who are raising the red flags which are being ignored or derided by so called conservatives, are that we can probably survive a TWO degree C rise of the Earth’s average temperature relative to 150 years ago. Twenty five to thirty years ago scientists studying the Earth’s changing climates were predicting that the effects we are now observing would begin to become apparent in 2100 if we did nothing for a century. One can only conclude that the mathematical modeling used then was not as accurate as one would wish for; however, rather than being too dire in prediction they were too conservative,

    Current conservative models estimate a 2 degree C average temperature of the Earth not occurring until the turn of the century are countered with predictions of as much as a 5 degree C rise by alternative models. As “they” say “it is time to fish or cut bait”. Based upon the climatic changes we have observed to this point, in our short stint as the Earth’s top predator, how can anyone believe that a change of average Earth temperature 3 times (minimum) what we have wrought to this point, in half the time, enable the Earth to sustain the predicted 10+ billion humans and any of the other vanishing fauna that survives for another 85 years? It is a human predilection to believe that situations “always” improve over time; unfortunately, this is only true for a relatively small percentage of humans who, through luck of birth country, family or circumstance, are able to utilize and capitalize on the wealth generated via the efforts of multitudes of other humans. The current concepts of the “haves” that their way of life is inviolable and that their “right” to obscene riches predominates over the rest of our “rights” for a livable Earth are obvious stumbling blocks to any rational mechanism by which the inexorable collapse of the Earth’s capacity to sustain her current crop of flora and fauna can or will be effected.

    For an interesting relatively conservative take upon the unfolding climactic events I suggest this 3 year old report by the National Research Council:

    Good luck Mother Earth in your next experiment with, so called, intelligent life.

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