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Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority

Preparing for future floods

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Davin Heinbuck, ABCA Land and Water Technologist, monitors Flood Forecasting Network

Impact of recent flood events reinforces need for continued effective flood plain management: ABCA

Some Canadian communities (including in eastern Ontario, Québec, and British Columbia) faced the worst flooding in decades in May of 2017. Unrelenting rainfall and floods hit more than 130 communities. At least one person died and others were missing. Some communities declared States of Emergency. More than 1,500 people had to evacuate their homes in the Province of Québec and more than 2,400 homes were flooded in the May storms in that province. Hundreds of Canadian soldiers took part in efforts to respond to the flooding. Hundreds of thousands of sandbags were used in Québec to divert water during the flood.

The human and financial costs of extreme weather events like these remind us of the need to promote projects and best practices that address and reduce risks from flooding, according to Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA). These flood events reinforce the need to continue to protect life and property through programs such as flood forecasting and warning and flood plain management, according to ABCA. 

It’s not possible to prevent all risks from floods but the extreme floods which took place in early May are powerful recent examples of why the Province of Ontario has continued to support programs that limit the extent of those impacts. Ontario has programs to manage natural hazards like flooding and, for many decades, the Province has delegated specific flood plain management responsibilities to conservation authorities, where in those parts of the Province where conservation authorities exist. Conservation authorities reduce risk to life and property through a flood monitoring, forecasting, and warning system; flood plain maps to identify flood-prone areas; and regulations to limit or restrict new development in those flood-prone areas in order to protect life and reduce property damage. 

Local residents and community groups are helping to reduce risks from flooding by helping to make the local watershed more resilient to extreme weather events. Landowners and communities are using best management practices and completing local projects that slow down and capture water and release it slowly, improve forest conditions, and manage water running off of land during storm events. “They can also protect, create, and enhance local wetlands, which provide some of the best flood storage during high-water events,” said Davin Heinbuck, ABCA Land and Water Technologist.

Conservation Ontario, which represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities, has called for increased investment to maintain flood prevention and warning programs to prepare for future floods. The projected increase in the scale and frequency of extreme weather events, as climate continues to change, places increased demands on existing efforts to protect life and property from flooding, according to ABCA. “The recent flood events in Ontario and Quebec remind us how damaging floods can be,” Heinbuck said. “These major floods show why continued investment is needed to continue natural hazard programs to protect life and property from floods in the future. This investment can help to reduce disruption to people and the economy, reduce risk to people and their homes, and limit the financial and human costs of extreme weather events.”

Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority issues flood messages through the flood forecasting and warning program. ABCA issued a Flood Watch on May 4, 2017. “We issued a Flood Watch to municipalities, and shared this flood message with local media and on social media, so municipal staff and residents would be aware of the potential for flooding,” said Heinbuck. Fortunately, observed rainfall amounts in this watershed were on the low end of the forecasted range. Otherwise, flood impacts in the local area could have been worse, he said. 

To find out ways to reduce flooding locally, and for other flood forecasting and warning information, visit abca.on.ca at this link: www.abca.on.ca/page.php?page=flooding.

Backgrounder

Flood plain management, planning, and regulation in areas such as flood plains, are some ways Ontario reduces the impacts and risks from flooding and other natural hazards. The conservation authority plays an important provincially-mandated role in flood plain management. The program’s planning and regulations program, along with flood forecasting, monitoring, and warning, can help to minimize property damage, social disruption, and help to prevent loss of life. 

Partners in flood prevention work in Ontario include Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, local municipalities, conservation authorities, and other partners.

Conservation authorities, in their provincially mandated role, do important work monitoring watershed conditions, interpreting forecasts, and sharing with municipalities what local impacts there might be to an approaching flood event. ABCA can warn municipalities if a flooding event is likely to be minor or major and provide technical and planning assistance. 

Municipalities create emergency plans. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) plays a lead role during flooding emergencies. 

Potential damage to property has been avoided locally by a flood plain management and planning and regulations program that keeps development of out of flood plain areas. This long-term planning, based on mapping of 100-year flood lines, also helps to save lives and prevent injury.

Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) monitors weather and watershed conditions including streamflow at local stream gauge stations and river levels; measures snow cover and water equivalent in the snowpack; and gathers information through river watch reporting on local rivers; and monitors presence of ice. ABCA maintains and updates a Flood Emergency Plan and conducts tests of the ABCA’s flood message system. The conservation authority has monitoring stations that measure water quality, water quantity, and weather. Staff also monitor water content in snowpack during the winter months and staff members also take part in river watch monitoring. The projected increase in extreme weather events, as climate continues to change, makes this flood prevention, forecasting, and warning work even more important, according to the conservation authority.

ABCA issues three levels of flood messages: Watershed Conditions Statements (flood outlook and water safety); Flood Watches; and Flood Warnings. The terms used by the conservation authority now match those used by Environment and Climate Change Canada: 1. Statement, 2. Watch, and 3. Warning.

In addition to playing a key role in flood plain management, conservation authorities in Ontario work in partnership with local communities and landowners to reduce flooding impacts through protecting and improving forest cover; runoff and erosion control projects; encouraging wetlands to slow down and retain water and release it slowly; and encouraging plant cover year-round. 

Reduction of flooding and flood risks happens through flood prevention, forecasting, flood warning, planning, and regulations programs. Risks posed by flooding and other natural hazards are also reduced through landowner and community projects to improve watershed resiliency – such as runoff and erosion control projects; tree planting; and wetland creation and enhancement.

Ontario and local municipalities established conservation authorities starting in 1946. Ausable Bayfield Conservation is one of 36 conservation authorities in Ontario.