Canada construction Magazine [Canadian Construction]

Canada construction Magazine

ConstructionBusiness3By Tamsin Lyle and Deborah Harford

Overland flooding is consistently Canada’s most costly and frequent natural hazard, posing catastrophic risks to Canada’s economy, infrastructure, environment, and citizens. This will only worsen due to the changing climate. Recent loss estimates from the insurance industry for a catastrophic flood in BC range from $7bn-$10bn. In Alberta, the 2013 floods in the southern part of the province cost in the order of $5bn. Unfortunately, lack of dynamic action on flood planning by senior governments is exacerbating the risks posed by such events for millions of Canadians.

Water on a floodplain itself is not a problem. Damages occur when water negatively interacts with natural and human environments, impacting buildings, agriculture, critical infrastructure, business activity, transportation networks, and occasionally even human life.

It is well documented that preparation and planning ahead of a disaster will greatly reduce cost and suffering during and after a flood. However, without knowledge of where, and what, the risks are, such actions are hard to implement. The estimation of flood risk is complex and often poorly understood. It is a function of both the likelihood of an event occurring and the consequences of that event occurring, where consequence is defined as a function of flood hazard (where will the water go?) and vulnerability (what’s in the way?). Flood risk assessment, although complex and resource-intensive, is widely considered to be the best tool with which to make decisions that can reduce impacts.

A true flood risk assessment is invaluable for decision-makers, as it considers consequences for a range of potential events and time-scales; particularly useful information when considering long-term investments in infrastructure. Unfortunately, it is not widely practiced in Canada, partly due to a lack of established standards and senior level government oversight, partly because the professional community is entrenched in the use of older methodologies, but the biggest obstacle of all is the fact that there are not enough dollars available to carry out adequate analysis. Despite the fact that spending the dollars now will save billions down the road.

What can we do to reduce the risk?

Water will occasionally escape the confines of rivers and creeks and flow overland; there are no effective means to stop water from flowing downhill, although engineered structures like dams and dikes can slow and direct the flow. Given that there are limited opportunities to change the hazard, there is a need to focus on reducing the vulnerability of assets and people on the floodplain.

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