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New report turns to nature to limit flooding in Canada

April 27, 2023 
By FFIC Staff

April 27, 2023, Canada – The need to limit flood risk in Canada is urgent, with approximately 1.5 million homes in high-risk zones where they are ineligible for flood insurance, reports the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation.

A new report authored by the centre provides practical guidance for federal, provincial, local, and Indigenous governments to tackle river flooding using cost-effective solutions found in nature. For example, communities can be protected downstream by restoring wetlands and using floodplains to soak up, store and slow down water upstream. Historically, flood management techniques largely relied on built infrastructure solutions, such as flood walls, dikes, and river channel modifications, to control natural processes.

Large-scale flooding in British Columbia demonstrated in 2021 that these structures can negatively impact river systems and fail, leaving towns and homeowners underwater.

The report makes three recommendations:

  1. Develop consistent provincial approaches to integrated watershed management. Canada has best practices for watershed management that support nature-based solutions in some provinces. However, approaches vary significantly between provinces. Ontario is the only province where watershed-scale organizations and conservation authorities have a legal mandate that combines river flooding, erosion, and nature-based conservation. This can serve to inform other provinces.
  2. Direct funding for river flood management to high-risk watersheds. Funding is directed to municipal governments may not have the jurisdiction to implement nature-based solutions at the scale of the watershed. Going forward, projects funded at a local scale should be part of a watershed flood strategy.
  3. Routinely consider nature-based solutions for river flood and erosion management alongside built infrastructure. Nature-based solutions should be the default choice, and grey solutions should only be applied when it is demonstrated that they are superior in providing benefits to people and nature over the long term.

The report also identifies how future standards could support the implementation of the three recommendations, including supporting consistent approaches to watershed management planning, selecting flood risk options and using nature-based solutions that would enhance and support existing standards to mitigate flood risk.

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