Will provincial government’s ban on floodway building go far enough?

Albertans on the hook for at least a billion dollars to help our neighbours in other parts of the province recover from floods

Albertans on the hook for at least a billion dollars to help our neighbours in other parts of the province recover from floods that ravaged their homes and businesses, may soon be looking at an even steeper bill.

Should we be prepared to pay? Of course. It’s only right that taxpayers should share the burden and correct the mistakes our governments, both provincial and municipal, have made in the past.

Albertans should have heeded the lessons learned in other jurisdictions and banned building of residential, commercial and industrial structures on flood plains many years ago.

Now our provincial government is making the first baby steps to mitigating some of the danger from future acts of Mother Nature.

In a news release issued Sunday, Doug Griffiths, Chair of the Ministerial Flood Recovery Task Force, announced the government’s plan to provide money for people with homes located within a floodway to rebuild or relocate to a new location outside flood risk areas. Another portion of the program provides funding for “specific mitigation infrastructure that will protect buildings within a flood fringe area (such as berms, water control infrastructure, raising a house, etc.)”

The kicker in Griffith’s statement is the following, where he anticipates land banking at a level never seen in Alberta.

“Any land made available by Albertans moving out of flood risk areas will be made available for municipal flood mitigation infrastructure or for recreational use such as picnic areas, parks, cycling and hiking paths.”

We applaud the idea. Yes, we have to get people to areas where their lives won’t be destroyed every few years by rampaging water. But what is the cost going to be?

Griffiths also states, legislative changes will be made this fall that will require municipalities to stop approving development in floodways.

It’s interesting to note that “these new policy directions align with federal flood assistance programs and bring Alberta in line with provinces such as Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec which have various policies and limits on development in flood hazard areas.”

The government’s website (alberta.ca/Preventing-Flood-Damage.cfm) includes the province’s flood hazard map which categories areas as floodway, flood fringe, overland flow or under review.

“More than 70 per cent of Alberta’s populated areas are mapped or do not require mapping due to low-to-no flood hazard. Staff continue to work on mapping the rest of the province,” states the website.

Zooming in on our little part of the world, we see no areas marked around Sylvan Lake, but significant areas in Eckville, Lacombe, Red Deer and Markerville where rivers flow through the communities.

Wouldn’t it be great to see all those areas become park lands for the use and enjoyment of all residents?

The other question however, is the depth of the province’s response. They appear to be concerned only about rivers spilling over their banks due to rapid heavy rainfalls or snow melts.

But, in Sylvan Lake’s case, there seems no appreciation for the flooding potential of a lake filling to the breaking point and spilling through heavily populated areas.

A quick drive along Sylvan’s shoreline in the cottage area will show just how much below the lake level some of those structures sit while being protected by the massive berm called Lakeshore Drive.

Then there are plans in the Summer Village of Jarvis Bay to build on the Twin Fawn site, a former wetland filled to mere inches above the lake level. In Sylvan Lake and around the shore are more examples of developers building or hoping to build in wetland areas (think Westend Landing) that could be prone to flooding but also could damage a fragile ecosystem. Or swamps drained, houses erected and the hum of sump pumps a constant signal of relief for homeowners.

Municipal officials and our elected representatives would be well advised to watch very carefully the ministrations of the provincial government this fall as it struggles to create a new policy.