LATEST NEWS Engineering
September 11, 2013
Better planning dams floodwater threats
Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk
It's been two months since southern Alberta's disastrous floods, but the estimates for rebuilding infrastructure are still evolving. So, too, are the details of the provincial government's buyout plan for homeowners living in flood-prone areas.
When Premier Alison Redford cited a figure of “well over” $5 billion recently, she was talking just about infrastructure work.
If you add all the homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed, the total bill for the flooding skyrockets.
Redford said that, although the federal government has promised to pick up part of the tab, the provincial share will still be huge, and tough to fit into the budget.
In the meantime, Doug Griffiths, the province’s municipal affairs minister, has said that 254 flood victims will be offered buyouts if they elect to pull up stakes and rebuild somewhere away from floodways.
“We want to give homeowners the choice to relocate to safer areas,” Griffiths said.
If all the eligible homeowners accept the provincial offer, the cost to the public purse will be $175 million.
That sum is likely to be a drop in the bucket compared with the compensation that must still be worked out for businesses that lost their buildings.
As the province continues to define floodways in other centres, more announcements will be made. It has already decided that the buyout deal can’t apply to Fort McMurray, northeast of Edmonton, or Drumheller, northeast of Calgary.
Much of those two communities lie within floodways, and the province says it would simply be too costly to buyout everyone there. They’re still trying to come up with a plan for those areas.
Redford has said in a radio interview that taxpayers understand that everyone has to help the flood victims.
After all, she said, “we don’t know where the next flood will strike.”
“It could be Grande Prairie. It could be Fort McMurray. It could be Edmonton.”
And here’s the important thing to remember. There are people all over Alberta, all over the rest of Canada, who are located on floodplains and they’re at risk—if not from the next flood, then the next one, perhaps, or the one after that.
Floodways are simply no place to be when a stream spills over its banks, or lake levels rise.
But we will never be able to move everyone out of harm’s way. The cost would be unimaginable. So failing that, something must be done to protect them.
That’s why federal, provincial and municipal governments will (or should) spend heavily on infrastructure improvements for the next several years.
There will be no single answer. Some people can be moved. Diversions can be built. Design standards can be changed. Flood barriers can be erected.
So, there is a lot of work to do, by land-use planners, by engineers, by local councils, and by provincial and federal politicians, all of whom must work together to develop workable schemes to protect flood-prone areas coast to coast.
We’re involved in a game of catch-up when building and/or repairing infrastructure.
In Ontario, we’re told, there is a gap of $60 billion between the cost of infrastructure that needs to be built or repaired, and the amount municipalities have available to do the work.
That means municipal governments need $6 billion a year from senior levels of government, simply to catch up.
That, in turn, means new ways must be found to fund the necessary work.
We can’t just do nothing while hoping there won’t be another big flood. Events of the last several years have taught us that catastrophic weather events are becoming more common, and we have to plan and build our communities and their supporting infrastructure to take that new reality into account.
Korky Koroluk is a regular freelance contributor to the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.
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