Flood insurance customers often lack flood map information

Published: February 28, 2019

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Homeowners across Canada do not have access to vital information regarding flood risk. When buying a home or looking for flood insurance, homeowners don’t have flood map information to better determine risk. Problematically, even with maps, provinces usually only have incomplete, inadequate, and hard to find maps.

A study by the University of Waterloo finds flood maps in Canada are lacking in many areas, and homeowners are not able to find them. With flood insurance available since 2015, customers often have no idea whether their home needs protection or not.

“With governments starting to step away from flood recovery assistance in favour of having homeowners purchase private insurance, it is clear homeowners lack access to information that would help them determine if they should add that protection to their policies,” said Daniel Henstra, a professor of political science at Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts. “Considering that current household debt levels would likely hinder a homeowner’s ability to pay the tens-of-thousands of dollars often associated with an average flood, Canada needs to make better information available to homeowners so they can determine if their homes are at risk.”

Henstra was joined by professor Jason Thistlethwaite and PhD candidate Andrea Minano in the research project. During the study, the team looked at available online flood map information for 300 communities across Canada. All the areas researched were deemed as high-risk for flooding.

Information was gathered by government and non-government sources and revealed 62 percent of maps are not up to standard in terms of giving the public adequate information regarding flood risk. Also, the availability of maps differed depending on province.

For example, in Ontario flood maps are available to public users through conservation authority online portals, but were limited to the authorities reach. In Quebec, the government runs a provincial flood maps website. Alberta has a similar location, but is limited to maps for 20 communities.

“In this exercise, it became quickly apparent that mapping resources are largely outdated and the resources that are available are hard to find,” said Minano. “If Canada wants to move from government assistance to help people recover from catastrophic flooding to a model based on home insurance purchased at the discretion of the homeowner, our maps and their availability need to improve.”