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Put your money in Conservation Authority Flood Management Programs and it will be well-spent

May 10, 2017

News of the unfortunate and fatal flood events in eastern Canada, Quebec, and Ontario has captured national media attention. There have been many cries for emergency relief and requests to all levels of government and the insurance industry to provide payments to repair damages. Recent media reports call for governments to take responsibility and make land use decisions that keep development, people and businesses, transportation and utility corridors safely away from floodplains in order to reduce costs and protect lives.

It’s good to see some of the heartwarming stories about tireless homeowners, emergency management officials and volunteers pitching in and helping with rescues and relief.

We think that Ontario’s network of Conservation Authorities is another good news story, but one that remains largely under the radar for most people, including our government partners. Generally, Conservation Authorities are not in the media, so many people don’t make the link between Conservation Authorities as a first line of defense in preventing and reducing the impacts of flooding, thereby also reducing the need for flood disaster assistance.

Conservation Authorities are watershed management agencies who work with all levels of government to implement a flood management approach that focuses on prevention, protection and effective emergency management, saving millions of dollars a year in damages and other costs.

The advantage of investing in Conservation Authorities’ flood programs is that you’re not starting from scratch.

Thanks to the foresight of the Province and municipalities who started to establish Conservation Authorities in the 1940s, these agencies now have many years of experience in flood management and have accumulated a lot of local information which can be used to reduce and prevent flooding. They are a cost efficient partner for the Province and municipalities.

For the most part, Conservation Authority flood programs have been quite effective, due in large part to collaborations with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, local municipalities and Environment Canada. While Ontario is seeing serious flooding with states of emergencies especially along shorelines of Lake Ontario and in parts of the Ottawa River shorelines, the impact is significantly less than elsewhere in the country.

However, while a recent report provides Ontario with the highest rating (B+) in flood preparedness compared to other provinces and territories, there are some gaps within our programs that need to be addressed immediately if we’re going to keep pace with the escalating impacts of climate change.

Conservation Ontario’s Case for Reinvestment in Ontario’s Flood Management Programs, Services and Infrastructure points out the need for incremental investments to update floodplain mapping, address gaps in flood operations within conservation authorities, and continue to make dents in the upgrade of some of our aging flood prevention infrastructure especially in rural areas where municipalities struggle to meet costs.

Funding for new technologies and tools for floodplain mapping, monitoring and forecasting will help in flood warning and emergency preparedness. Future service costs and mapping updates will be more effective and efficient.

And lastly, investments in human resources and training in new technologies and tools will keep Ontario’s envied flood management program from falling behind. These staff work tirelessly away during these events with other partners, many behind the scenes and you don’t hear about them because they are doing their job effectively.

If we had one message to give to our partners in flood management it would be ‘put your money into Conservation Authority flood management programs and it will be well-spent’!

By Jo-Anne Rzadki, Business Development & Partnerships Coordinator, Conservation Ontario

Upper Thames Flooding

Preventing and Reducing the Impacts of Flooding Makes Good Business Sense

February 10, 2017

The escalating economic cost of flooding in Ontario is getting the attention of the financial sector.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Investment Review (CIR) focused on a report published late last year by the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. The report provided results of a survey of all the provinces and one territory (Yukon) to gauge their flood preparedness and flood risk mitigation activities. And what they found was disappointing – the average grade is C-.

So why is this investment organization – comprised of many of Canada’s leading university and business financial experts – interested in flooding? It’s because of the growing impacts of flooding which pose a risk to pension funds.

Pension portfolios typically carry real estate and infrastructure assets, energy stocks and municipal bonds according to the article published by CIR. All can be adversely affected by the physical damages of flooding and the escalating economic impacts which are associated with catastrophic events.

Canadian Map of Grades

In the report, Ontario got a B+ which surprisingly put us at the top of the class. Conservation Authorities have been on frontlines of flood risk mitigation and management for years and this grade highlights the clever decision made by the Province and Ontario’s municipalities many years ago.

When Conservation Authorities were beginning to be established during the 1940s, Ontario was dealing with some very significant soil erosion and flooding problems as a result of a variety of land management practices that included development in the floodplain and deforestation. Fortunately, a number of smart conservationists and water managers came up with a good idea – they would set up Conservation Authorities as local natural resource management agencies and their watershed-based approach would restore Ontario’s environment and prevent costly flooding and erosion. Recognizing both the local and provincial benefits of Conservation Authority programs, it was decided they would be jointly funded by municipalities and the Province on a 50-50 basis. Since 1946, 36 Conservation Authorities have been established.

This created a firm foundation for flood management in Ontario – it was properly funded, shared between local and provincial governments and it supported a watershed-based approach to flood management in Ontario.

For a period of time in the 1950s, 1960s and then specifically in the 1970s through the 1990s, under the Flood Damage Reduction Program, provincial and municipal support was leveraged by the federal government. These funding arrangements supported activities like flood plain mapping, flood infrastructure (dams and dikes), the development of planning and zoning policies, flood forecast and warning systems and the acquisition of floodplain lands.

In the 1990s, the Province dropped out of the funding arrangement and today provides only a small amount for flood management and infrastructure ($7.4 million per year to be divided up by all 36 Conservation Authorities for flood operations and an additional pot of $5 million per year which is matched by municipal funding for a limited number of flood infrastructure projects).

Municipalities have tried to fill the gap as best they could, however, the smaller tax base experienced by small rural and northern municipalities makes this tough. And it’s not easy for urban municipalities with large populations, either. They are dealing with the increasing complexities of aging flood and stormwater infrastructure compounded by a lack of natural assets like woodlands, wetlands and other natural features that help to mitigate impacts of heavy and intense rain and melting snow. A properly funded flood program has been estimated by Conservation Ontario to cost a total of $63.5 million per year.

The long standing Conservation Authority flood management and, broader watershed management programs have served Ontario well and contributed greatly to the B+ mark that we received as a province. But there are cracks in parts of the foundation and they’re getting larger as a result of climate change.

It’s a challenge to keep up with the escalating impacts of climate change. While Conservation Authorities still continue to protect people and property quite effectively, working with their municipal, provincial and federal partners, some of their flood management services and flood infrastructure assets are showing their age and suffer from a lack of consistent, adequate funding.

We are beginning to see some investment from the Federal Government under programs like the National Disaster Mitigation Program. However, in Ontario if we want to continue to prevent the escalating economic and social costs of flooding flagged in the Canadian Investment Review article, then a new business arrangement is needed around flood management programs, acknowledging that all stakeholders have a shared responsibility to reduce their flood risk.

One last message to remember is that investing in flood prevention is good business because it saves money. Public Safety Canada calculates that every dollar investigated in mitigation saves $3 - $5 in recovery costs. That’s a persuasive argument for all flood management partners and the general public, to consider when deciding how to improve Ontario’s flood management programs.

Jo-Anne Rzadki is the Business and Partnership Coordinator, for Conservation Ontario. Conservation Ontario represents Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities.

Jane Lewington is Conservation Ontario’s Marketing and Communications Specialist.

Humber Bay Park credit Suzanne Barrett

Conservation Authorities Have a Role to Play in Shaping Land Use in Greater Golden Horseshoe

Ontario Government’s proposed changes to four key provincial plans

May 12, 2016

In their response to the recent review of four key provincial plans shaping land use in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, the Province has done a good job recognizing the importance of integrating growth with considerations to the environment. Focusing growth, expanding the greenbelt, protecting prime agricultural lands, and developing transit infrastructure will go a long way to manage the impacts of our future growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region.

Requiring watershed planning across the Greater Golden Horseshoe will also help to manage growing urban impacts and enable municipal and the provincial decision-makers to address multiple priorities together, including protection and restoration of water and natural heritage, climate change and building community resiliency.

The role of Ontario's Conservation Authorities and the contributions they can make as implementing partners is not as explicit in the government's recent response as it was in the December 2015 Advisory Panel Report. This is disappointing. Nevertheless, Conservation Authorities have an important role in influencing what happens on the ground.

Conservation Authorities have a long and rich history in local watershed management in this province. Through their programs and multi-stakeholder partnerships these science-based, local agencies have helped to make this province a leader in flood management and integrated watershed management.

Conservation Authorities may not win a popularity contest around all tables, but they continue to provide technical expertise and advice and look for solutions with all levels of government and business sectors; solutions that enable growth while still protecting important natural resources that we need for a healthy economy, environment and people.

Conservation Authorities applaud the direction the government is taking to manage the impacts of growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region and would hope to look forward to continuing as important partners in helping all levels of government – and residents – to meet the plans' objectives.

Bonnie Fox is the Manager of Planning and Policy at Conservation Ontario.