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’!
Author: Jo-Anne Rzadki, Business Development & Partnerships Coordinator, Conservation Ontario