By Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction
Published in the Toronto Sun
Sandbags, flooded crawl spaces, pumping stations, rubber boots — they’re common sights in 2017 for residents of Toronto’s Ward’s Island. But for many Torontonians, 2017 could also be called “the year of the flood.”
Higher rainfall during the spring caused Lake Ontario to swell 55 centimetres, submerging not only parts of the Toronto islands, but also affecting regional shorelines and even seeping into lakeside condo parking garages.
But our memory can be short.
It was only four years ago Toronto experienced dramatic flooding brought on by a summer storm that overwhelmed local sewer infrastructure, flooded thousands of homes, and left commuters stranded. This storm accounted for $1 billion in insured property damage, and left affected homeowners with average basement repairs of more than $40,000. With over half of Canadians only holding $10,000 or less in savings for emergencies, this is an alarming trend, which will only intensify with time.
So, who’s on the hook to clean up the mess and foot the bill?
Don’t assume the government is going to treat. Though government disaster aid is available for homeowners in these situations, it’s limited. And while both federal and provincial governments are working to protect our region from extreme weather, they can’t do it alone. The private sector and homeowners need to pitch in.
The problem? Homeowners have an awareness gap that could drain their wallet. They aren’t doing enough to protect their homes, and they aren’t too concerned about the risk they’re exposed to. According to a survey completed for Public Safety Canada, 74% of Canadians have not protected their homes from flooding and 54% said they were not concerned about flooding in their area. More needs to be done to shift homeowners’ priorities.
In response, CivicAction, in partnership with the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation and supported by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, held a forum to identify the barriers, opportunities, and actions stakeholder organizations (government, insurance companies, etc.) and homeowners can take to minimize the growing flood risk.
Some of the big ideas coming out of the forum included:
- Government could be a better regulator and make existing standards to address flooding mandatory and use utility services to continue to educate homeowners on emergency preparedness during extreme weather.
- The real-estate sector could develop a flood proofing rating for homes.
- Banks and insurance companies could provide incentives for flood mitigation efforts such as reduced insurance costs or lower mortgage rates.
- Associations representing construction and trades could better educate contractors on opportunities to reduce flood risk when undertaking renovation work.
Whether we like it or not, this is an issue we can’t afford to ignore. But by developing the right tools and resources together, government, business and homeowners can make informed decisions to ensure our homes, businesses and infrastructure aren’t stranded up a creek. By taking action today, we — as homeowners and taxpayers — can avoid the downstream costs of extreme weather.