By Chad Ingram
The provincial government unveiled a new document Protecting People and Property: Ontario’s Flood Strategy in Minden on Monday morning.
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Yakabuski made the announcement alongside Ontario Infrastructure Minister and HKLB MPP Laurie Scott and Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin along Minden’s Riverwalk on March 9.
Developed in the wake of severe and widespread flooding throughout Ontario in the spring of 2019 the creation of the strategy included input from municipalities as well as public consultations and drew on the advice of Doug McNeil Ontario’s special advisor on flooding.
“As our province experiences more frequent extreme weather events the possibility of serious flooding becomes increasingly likely” Yakabuski said. “That’s why our government has been taking action to protect people and property. We are listening to people across the province who have been affected by floods. Building healthier and safer communities is our No. 1 priority as we build Ontario together.”
“We now have a new flood strategy a long-term plan to make our province better prepared for flooding better equipped to respond and more capable for mounting a recovery” Yakabuski continued. “The strategy includes a series of recommendations and enhanced actions that will improve our collective understanding of flood risks and help make appropriate land use planning decisions.”
The strategy a 40-page document is divided into five main priority areas. These are understanding flood risks; strengthening governance of flood risks; enhancing flood preparedness; enhancing flood response and recovery; and investing in flood risk reduction.
On understanding flood risks Yakabuski said “That means gathering the best science and information available and making sure that you and the governments and agencies that represent you are aware of the risks related to flooding. This also involves increasing public awareness and education.”
One of the recommended actions in terms of understanding flood risks is enhanced flood mapping.
“Ontario’s Flooding Strategy seeks to advance and enhance flood mapping in Ontario by creating an integrated sustainable and systematic provincial flood mapping program designed in partnership with municipalities and conservation authorities” the document reads. “Through implementation of the following activities sound local decisions will be able to be made on current data and mapping.”
Those activities include the establishment of a multi-agency flood mapping technical team developing a multi-year approach to updating flood mapping maintaining flood-related foundational geospatial data; establishing a provincial elevation mapping program; and updating provincial standards for flood mapping.
“To support effective and consistent approaches to flood mapping and provide support and guidance to the community of mapping practitioners in Ontario the province will incorporate advancements in flood surveying and mapping technologies including new and emerging data acquisition methods by developing standards to ensure the consistency and accuracy of flood and other water-related hazard mapping across the province regardless of the data acquisition methods employed” the document reads. It includes recommendations to “examine the suitability of consolidating survey and mapping guidance for the purpose of addressing all water-related natural hazards” as well as to “explore opportunities to standardize mapping content and cartographic requirements for existing and any new formats of flood mapping.”
Increasing public awareness and education is also a recommendation under the priority of understanding flood risks. The strategy reads that the provincial government will “create a public education and outreach program designed to help Ontarians understand the risks they face and steps that they can take to prepare – including creating a central provincial website that provides information about flooding and weblinks to publicly available resources.”
The second priority area strengthening governance of flood risks includes clarifying the roles and responsibilities of different agencies such as conservation authorities and governments involved with the management of floods.
“Flood management is complicated it involves multiple levels of government and different partners” Yakabuski said at Monday’s press conference. “So the strategy will help to clarify the roles and responsibilities of each of the groups involved in flood management in Ontario.”
The document reads: “The province will work with municipalities and conservation authorities to create a regulation under the Conservation Authorities Act outlining mandatory programs and services to be delivered by conservation authorities related to the risk of natural hazards. This could include standards and requirements for the delivery of those programs and services.”
Haliburton County does not sit within the jurisdiction of any conservation authority however in 2015 the county in partnership with the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow created the Upper Trent Watershed Management Partnership a stakeholder advocacy group that brings together experts and politicians from throughout the region and essentially acts as de facto conservation authority.
Among recommended actions under strengthening the governance of flood risks is the promotion of sound land use planning decisions including a recommendation to update the Provincial Policy Statement which sets the foundation for the development of land to better steer development away from high-risk flood-prone areas.
“We want to make sure local development is directed away from areas where flooding and erosion is an unacceptable risk” Yakabuski said.
The strategy’s third priority is enhancing flood preparedness.
“Flooding is a fact of life in Ontario but by knowing when and where floods are likely to occur we can be better equipped when it happens “Yakabuski said. “We can do so by using state-of-the-art science and technology. For example we are committed to investing $4.7 million in the stream gauge network which measures water flow and levels and helps municipalities better prepare for flood events.”
While the strategy suggests that municipalities take advantage of existing provincial funding programs there was no funding for municipalities specifically tied to the announcement of the strategy.
The strategy also recommends the creation of enhanced flood forecasting and warning systems and reads that the province will “implement a federal collaborative climate monitoring agreement between Ontario and other agencies that supports the sharing of weather data and will work towards making this information available in open data form. This agreement includes data from Environment Canada weather stations MNRF stations Ministry of Transportation road weather information and some conservation authorities.”
The strategy’s fourth priority is enhancing flood response and recovery.
“This means putting measures in place to improve how we receive and respond to municipal requests for assistance by making our programs more co-ordinated and effective” Yakabuski said.
Included in the strategy’s recommended activities is that the province will “finalize the procurement of an emergency management software solution which will make the interaction with communities during times of emergency more efficient. The solution will provide a more effective means of communicating and tracking support requests from municipalities to ensure they are assigned prioritized and actioned [sic] more quickly.”
Both municipalities and residents that experience property damage as a result of flooding are able to apply for disaster relief assistance from the provincial government.
“Finally the fifth priority is to invest in flood risk reduction” Yakabuski said. “This priority aims to promote financial investments that are strategic and working with the federal government to increase investments in critical areas like mapping and infrastructure.”
In various sections the strategy mentions seeking increased funding from the federal government.
“It is also incumbent on the federal government to do its part to address the serious of flooding” the document reads. “Ottawa currently provides funding through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund. Ontario will engage with the federal government to encourage them to provide additional funding for initiatives like flood mapping and other cost-shared flood mitigation projects through national funding programs such as an updated National Disaster Mitigation Program.”
The strategy mentions in several places increased communication and co-ordination between the three levels of government when it comes to flooding issues and Yakabuski Scott and Devolin each spoke about the importance of strengthening partnerships between the federal government the provincial government and municipalities.
“We know that in order to succeed we can’t act alone” Yakabuski said. “We all have a role to play in becoming better prepared for flooding.”
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale was also present at Monday’s announcement and Scott said that collaboration between the federal and provincial governments had gotten the area through some tough times in the past.
“We recognized over the years certainly here in our area in Minden Hills in the County of Haliburton and respective townships and the north part of Kawartha Lakes that we needed to look at new approaches to flooding” Scott said.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said water issues in all parts of the Trent Severn Waterway (the county is part of the feeder system for the nearly 400-kilometre-long canal) are major and ongoing and that “dealing with them and the changing environment that we have requires partnerships. And we’ve seen an evolution of that partnership with the federal government with asset renewal and those funds come into the Trent Severn but I’m hoping this is the beginning of a new day and a new partnership with our municipal partners with the MNRF so that mitigation measures with the ever-changing water levels and environment that we have that we can protect and look after the interests of all of our taxpayers.”
There is flooding throughout Haliburton County each spring including a number of years with severe flooding in the past seven years. The Township of Minden Hills declared states of emergency due to flooding in 2013 2017 and 2019 respectively. Water from nearly 30 lakes throughout the county that are part of the feeder system for the TSW flows through the channel of the Gull River through downtown Minden and in some years along with severe property damage homes have had to be demolished.
Severe flooding in the spring of 2017 also badly damaged the historic Hawk Lake log chute in Algonquin Highlands and low-lying waterfront properties on many of the feeder and flow-through lakes throughout the county can be prone to spring flooding.
Along with the creation of the Upper Trent Watershed Management Partnership Haliburton County council has undertaken a LIDAR mapping project which is still underway. LIDAR or Light Detection and Ranging uses a laser-based system to produce extremely detailed topographical images and those images will provide the basis for detailed updated flood mapping. The Township of Minden Hills has completed a drainage study of flood-prone areas in the village of Minden and installed a check valve along the Gull River.
Over the years an improved communications framework has also been created with reps from the TSW and MNRF having daily conference calls with county politicians during the spring freshet. Flooding typically occurs between mid-April and mid-May.