Ottawa turns to Winnipeg to study flood planning, protection

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OTTAWA — Researchers have looked to Winnipeg’s flood-resistant planning codes as Ottawa crafts a national standard for building new neighbourhoods.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/09/2017 (1775 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Researchers have looked to Winnipeg’s flood-resistant planning codes as Ottawa crafts a national standard for building new neighbourhoods.

However, they say Manitoba needs to do a better job at encouraging those who already own homes to prepare for rising rainfall.

“For Canada as a whole, the average rainfall has increased by about 18 per cent over the course of the last 113 years,” said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation.

Based at the University of Waterloo, the research centre is funded by an insurance agency that is grappling with an uptick in flood-related claims.

“People’s general perceptions of more water in the system is actually correct,” said Feltmate, whose team published a seminal report Tuesday that outlines how cities can regulate construction to make sure new homes are better at withstanding floods.

The suggestions range from not building reverse-slope driveways, which incline underground, to having backup power for waste water-treatment plants so that sewers don’t overflow. Some involve building houses farther from wetlands, rivers and creeks, because existing vegetation can soak up water.

The report also asks cities not to be too cheap. A 15-centimetre-diameter pipe might be sufficient for today’s weather, but spending a few more cents on 30-cm pipes can leave neighbourhoods at lower risk during flooding, according to Feltmate.

“Winnipeg is in pretty good shape; better than almost all cities in Canada,” he said. “They’ve got a good handle on that subject.”

He believes Manitoba was prescient in constructing the Red River Floodway in 1968, which at the time cost $63 million (roughly $586 million in 2017 dollars).

Provincial data suggest the floodway has prevented more than $40 billion in damage as of 2011.

The Standards Council of Canada will assess Tuesday’s report and will likely publish national standards for new builds by August. Feltmate’s team looked at numerous Canadian cities and heard from architects, conservation authorities and planners.

But a separate report by Feltmate’s team last October found Manitoba does a lousy job of reaching out to homeowners and companies who own apartments.

He said Winnipeggers could benefit from having someone check water pathways around their homes, to ensure eavestroughs flow to the right place and basement window wells have sealed framed or plastic covers to prevent water from filling the space.

Inside a house, people often don’t test the sump pump, nor do they have a battery ready for when storms knock out electricity. Backwater valves can block overwhelmed sewers from rushing water into basements and simply putting valuables higher up inside plastic boxes can save them.

Feltmate said the average cost of damage caused by a flooded basement in the Winnipeg region is $42,000.

“What people need to ask themselves is: ‘Am I willing to work on a Saturday and a Sunday around my house — and maybe spend a few hundred dollars — to put measures in place that, with a reasonably high assuredness, will result in me not having a flooded basement?’”

He’s pushing cities to take on the same mentality.

“It’s much more cost-effective to be ahead of the curve and anticipate extreme weather than it is to react to it,” he said. “Avoid management by disaster.”

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Dylan Robertson

Dylan Robertson
Parliamentary bureau chief

In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"

History

Updated on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 12:30 PM CDT: Corrects reference to percentage increase in rainfall over last century.

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