Experts warn floodplain maps are “politically toxic”

Published: September 8, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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Floodplain maps are seen as a potential partial answer to Canada’s flood problem, but one expert believes they may cause more harm than good.

Canada’s existing flood maps are outdated. The last issue was in 1996 when the Liberal government decided to stop updating maps as part of budgetary cuts that ended the Environment Canada Flood Damage Reduction Program.

Since then, a lot has changed. Climate conditions are more unstable and climate change has resulted in more frequent floods and other natural disasters. Updated maps for 2017 would include the changed topography and reflect how climate change has had an effect.

In March, Federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale confirmed that Environment Canada would reintroduce the project. In collaboration with private companies, the body will resume publishing floodplain maps.

Dr. Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, believes flood maps are not the answer and may cause problems:

“Floodplain maps are politically toxic – nobody wants to take the lead in developing them and releasing them publicly,” Feltmate said at the 2017 Flood Risk Summit. “Governments that would support developing floodplain maps would take a lot of heat from current homeowners, who may be now identified as being in a floodplain. All of a sudden you have a $1 million home that is stigmatized and devalued down to half its current value, where it’s unsellable.”

“There isn’t anything we can do about the unpredictability of the seasons, which is why it’s so important that brokers help their customers understand what they could be exposed to and assist them with choosing the right coverage for their needs,” said Barry Owen, Aviva Canada’s assistant vice-president of personal lines propositions. “Brokers now have several markets offering flood insurance, but not all products are created equal, so they need to understand the differences.”