Flood risk maps in Canada are decades outdated and yet, annual flooding still surprises many Canadians.
It shouldn’t, says Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.
“There is no city that is disproportionally off the charts as being overly prepared and there’s none that’s really doing a terrible job,” he said. “Most cities are somewhere in the zone of mediocrity and prepared for a flood risk.”
Feltmate is one of the leading flood mitigation experts in Canada and with the help of his team is trying to quickly get Canada up to speed, as the climate crisis intensifies flooding with every passing year.
“If people are hit with just one flood, very often they think ‘this is just a one off, this is an anomaly. You know, there’s my one in 100 year flood.’ But when they get hit with two major floods within a short period of time and they’ve never seen any, you know, in a particular area, all of a sudden they’ll go ‘maybe something really is different,’” he said.
In communities where a natural disaster hits, Feltmate says there’s often an urgency to build back to the standards before the flood. But his team is trying to focus on educating decision makers and home owners in place, so when big storms hit, the devastation is minimal and the rebuild improves on existing infrastructure.
A basement flood, on average, costs around $43,000.
But most often lower-income communities are hit hardest, areas that haven’t historically been a priority for flood protection, said Feltmate.
“The stress those communities realize due to climate change and extreme weather risk is literally off the charts because you’ve got people that are really living perhaps, you know, month to month,” he said.
“If those individuals are hit by a flood or a fire event, it can be a devastating event in their life. Very, very difficult to recover from.”
A few short hours could save homeowners thousands
A basement flood, on average, costs around $43,000. For Feltmate, educating homeowners on how to prevent the damage is where to start.
Feltmate took CityNews on a tour of his home in Oakville, ON, demonstrating the simple tasks required to prevent damage with the potential of saving a ton of money if a flood did hit.
Feltmade moved his downspout away from the foundation of his home, pointing it towards a rock bed between his driveway and his neighbours’.
“We’re going to take one minute to readjust the pipe to direct water away from the house so everything is safe,” he said.
Next, moving to his backyard, Flatmate used a ladder to look into the eavestroughs.
“This material, these leaves, these twigs and so forth, they build up in the eavestrough and if you get enough of them in there, they’ll stop the water from flowing out of the system,” he said, holding up the debris.
“The water will overflow. These troughs come down around the side of the wall of the house, around the foundation of the house, maybe end up in the basement and cleaning this material out prevents that.”
If your home has a sump-pump, make sure it’s not covered and if there’s a backup, that the battery is working, he advises.
“I have two sump pumps. If one doesn’t work, hopefully the other one does,” said Feltmate, standing beside the sump well in his basement.
“And what I’m doing is pouring water in there, which I do twice a year to fill it up. And then here the sump pumps kick in and pumps the water outside. And I want to make sure that they’re working because I don’t want to find out that these things don’t work when I have three feet of sewer water in my basement.”
While education and these simple tasks around the home are a good place to start, there’s much work to be done if Canada wants to truly adapt nationally to the current climate.
“I sort of liken it to the equivalent of you’re in a small, compact car heading down the road in a certain direction with a goal in mind. So that’s all good. However, if you look in your rearview mirror and see a large tractor trailer coming up behind you at twice your speed, going in the right direction isn’t good enough. You’ve got to speed up,” he said.
“And right now, climate change is the tractor trailer.”
Blair Feltmate is featured in a new Citytv VeraCity documentary, The Fight For Tomorrow. The film explores the impact of the climate crisis on Canada’s largest cities and how eight Canadians are trying to change the course of our future. Produced and written by Megan Robinson, The Fight For Tomorrow premieres Tuesday, March 30 at 10pm/9pm CT on Citytv and Citytv.com. Join us for a live discussion about the documentary on Facebook, March 31 at 12pm EST.