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Alberta policies for flooding show lack of foresight

Posted on July 24, 2013 by Taber Times

It is a difficult time for the Alberta government to introduce policies on building in flood-risk areas.

But recently, Doug Griffiths, the chair of the Ministerial Flood Recovery Task Force did just that, in an announcement billed as giving homeowners choices in rebuilding homes which suffered from one of the province’s worst floods in history.

As some have just begun the process of assessing the damage, and starting to go through a wide range of emotions as their home, and likely all of their belongings are rendered useless, decisions will have to be made as to how to start over.

Griffiths announced funding will be available to homes located within a floodway, or relocate them to areas outside flood-risk areas. Money will also be available for flood-mitigation measures for heavily-damaged homes in flood-fringe areas. That, in short, is good news for those willing to rebuild.

However, homeowners in flood-fringe areas who do not implement measures to protect against a one-in-100 flood, will not be eligible for funding in the event of a future flood. Those homes and businesses located in floodways, who utilize disaster-recovery funds, will have a notation on their land title to ensure future owners of that property are well informed of the risk.

These steps are needed improvements in terms of flood-protection procedures but for many, it is simply a case of too little, too late. Government had the opportunity to step in and ensure legislative changes were made, years ago, to prevent municipalities from approving developments in floodways, and chose not to. Those legislation changes are expected to come this fall, as consultation with municipalities is expected to begin soon.

The question should now be, why did it take so long for Alberta to align its policy with federal flood-assistance programs, and bring it in line with provinces such as Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec? 

Certainly, provincial leaders in Manitoba, who have extensive experience dealing with flood-related issues, and know full well the power Mother Nature possesses to quickly change the geographical landscape of low-lying areas, could have been used as a sounding board for the development of policy in this province.

And of course, questions will continue as to why the government’s 2006 report, on the floods of the previous year, collected dust until today. Many of the legislative changes coming this fall could have, and should have, been enacted a year ago, which would have offered protection to homeowners and put the brakes on development in flood-prone areas.

To be fair, the flood events of late June were unprecedented. Sometimes, there is simply no protection against natural disasters which occur on catastrophic scales.

As it stands now, homeowners who have suffered significant losses will  have difficult decisions to make, and the government will have to do its best developing new policies on the fly. Numerous questions exist, questions without easy answers, particularly in terms of relocation procedures.

Will new, serviced subdivisions be built to accommodate residents looking to swap flood-prone lots for safer land? What will become of areas abandoned by those unwilling to risk more flooding? How will the province work to ensure Alberta is better prepared to handle the next severe flooding event?

The government has acted quickly in its response to the crisis.

However, the actions our leaders take in the next few months will prove how much we have learned from this crisis.

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