Charlottetown scores low on flood prevention, says report

·4 min read
Flooding damage carries the highest price tag for extreme weather events in Canada. This photo, from 2019, shows flooding on Queen Street in Charlottetown.  (Laura O'Connor/Twitter - image credit)
Flooding damage carries the highest price tag for extreme weather events in Canada. This photo, from 2019, shows flooding on Queen Street in Charlottetown. (Laura O'Connor/Twitter - image credit)

The City of Charlottetown needs to pull its socks up when it comes to flooding prevention, according to a new report from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

The centre has been studying flooding preparedness in 16 Canadian cities, and Charlottetown's grade dropped from C– to D+ between 2015 and 2020.

"Where is water going to go when the big storms hit, either through rivers overflowing or water backing up through sewer systems?" said Blair Feltmate, a professor at the university and head of the centre.

"Charlottetown does not have up-to-date flood risk maps," he told Laura Chapin on Island Morning.

Blair Feltmate says flood risk maps need to take into account that future storms will likely be more intense and longer than storms of the past.
Blair Feltmate says flood risk maps need to take into account that future storms will likely be more intense and longer than storms of the past. (uwaterloo.ca)

Feltmate said Charlottetown scored worse than in 2015 on five of the seven areas they looked at, tying for the second-worst overall grade in the country.

"In terms of land-use planning, directing that no new developments be built on flood plains, Charlottetown scored fairly low," he said.

The city also scored low for its efforts in urban drainage, directing water away from areas where infrastructure currently exists.

There was one area where Charlottetown has improved, however: educating homeowners about the risks of basement flooding.

"We have an infographic that delineates on one page, 15 things you can do around your house to lower the probability that you will end up with water in your basement. And the city has been putting that material out through various forms of communication to homeowners," said Feltmate.

The weather of the past is not a good predictor of the weather of the future under climate change. - Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation

The average cost of a flooded basement in Canada right now is about $40,000, said Feltmate, and often the homeowner ends up paying for all or part of that because of a lack of insurance coverage or a cap on pay-outs.

"That's why we put so much attention on helping homeowners to help themselves, to put the measures in place around their home, to hopefully not realize a flooded basement when the big storms hit," he said.

Charlottetown has 'picked up the ball', says Feltmate, when it comes to helping homeowners prevent basement flooding.
Charlottetown has 'picked up the ball', says Feltmate, when it comes to helping homeowners prevent basement flooding. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

A staff member from the Intact Centre is working with the city and the province of P.E.I. right now in the area of flood home protection.

"And that's training individuals in the province to go out into the community, meet with homeowners and be able to perform an assessment of their flood vulnerabilities for their home," said Feltmate.

Charlottetown recently received about $87,000 in funding from P.E.I.'s Climate Challenge Fund to do homeowner flooding education and assessment work.

Feltmate said the centre's evaluation ended at the beginning of 2020, but Charlottetown has done some good work since then.

"I think they've picked up the ball quite a bit to be more aggressive in the whole area of helping homeowners help themselves."

City says reports like this are 'valuable'

In a statement to CBC News, Ramona Doyle, manager of environment and sustainability for the City of Charlottetown, said that the city is "displeased" with the report's results, but that it is valuable in identifying areas where the city must improve.

"We believe that a number of ongoing initiatives, including recent funding from the Climate Challenge Fund, our active partnership with ClimateSense, as well as joining the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative will help us work towards mitigating flood risks going forward," Doyle said.

'New regime' of extreme weather

Feltmate said that across Canada, extreme weather events are becoming more common, and governments need to change the way they model flood risk.

"The weather of the past is not a good predictor of the weather of the future under climate change. We are getting storms today that are more intense, more water coming down over shorter periods of time than has happened historically," he said.

"So the question is, are you also forward-looking under the new regime of the extreme weather that's on the ground today and the more extreme weather that's coming?"

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