Our weather is changing. The effect that climate change is having on the frequency of extreme weather events is being felt not just by people, but in the balance sheets of our public and private sector institutions. The Parliamentary Budget Office just produced a report detailing the financial risk and likely cost for to the federal government for disaster relief in the coming years. At the federal level, they are planning for 1-2 Calgary-esque floods per year in Canada.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada has been sounding the loudest alarm about the need to act. The insurance industry saw catastrophic loss payouts climb to nearly $3.5 billion in 2013. Now, citizens living in more flood-prone communities are paying much higher insurance premiums, if they are being insured at all. In fact, as a result of these significant loss payouts, all of us are paying more.
Recently, Cooperators Insurance released a flood preparedness assessment of Canada's major 15 cities. Edmonton received a grade of C. The report is a good starting place to help our City understand what risks need to be measured and what we can do to make our city safer and more resilient to these extreme weather events.
Edmonton is not unfamiliar with flooding. After major floods in 2004, 2012, and recent storms in 2016, we have made significant progress upgrading our drainage infrastructure and supporting our citizens to protect their private property by implementing smart backflow valves and lot grading programs. But the Cooperators assessment tells us that we haven't done enough while also helping us to better direct our efforts.
A TIME FOR LEADERSHIP AND ACTION
Alberta needs to develop a Climate Adaptation Strategy. Edmonton needs to undertake Risk Assessments to identify climate change vulnerabilities and opportunities. We also need to develop and implement Adaptation Plans to reduce the worst impacts of extreme weather events and leverage opportunities to improve our infrastructure and protect private and public property.
With the understanding that developing a Climate Change Adaptation strategy is a part of the Way Ahead Implementation Plan and a condition of the recent Compact of Mayors, both approved by Council, our administration needs to get serious about building a Climate Change Adaptation strategy for our City. This strategy will include changes or new programs for:
- Current Flood Mapping Data, Land use Planning, Asset Management, Urban Drainage Systems, Backwater Valve Installation (New House Construction), Backwater Valve Installation (Existing Home Retrofits), Water Supply & Raw Waste Management, Residential Home Resiliency and Adaptation Audit, Industrial and Commercial Real Estate, Electricity Supply, Petroleum Supply, Transportation Systems, Telecommunication Systems, Retail Food Supply, Banking & Financial Services, Human Health and Safety, and Emergency Response.
An important part of our work is to understand municipal, provincial, and federal policy and program alignment on climate change adaptation. This includes funding programs designed to update flood mapping, fund green infrastructure, and support community-scale adaptation efforts. We are currently awaiting details on the federal Green Infrastructure Fund and the work being done provincially by the Climate Change Emissions Reduction Management Fund.
BATTENING DOWN THE HATCHES
Accomplishing true climate resiliency in a City is no small feat. There are many different aspects that need to be considered when developing a plan to manage our risks. First off, our resiliency strategy must have a regional focus. Just as our regional partners depend on us for resources and services, the well-being of the other communities in the region is vital to Edmonton's strength as a city. Smart regional planning is a key to building climate resilient communities.
We need modern and upgraded infrastructure, in areas like energy transmission, drainage, and key public buildings. Sometimes, this will come at a cost that may seem steep up front, but keeping up that infrastructure is vital to our ability to thrive no matter what the weather may throw at us.
We need nimble, well-funded emergency services and preparedness plans. Part of this work will come through partnerships with the province, but the City also has to be cognizant of the fact that if important infrastructure is damaged in extreme weather, we are chiefly responsible for dealing with the situation in the long term. We need to have a thorough plan for people, places, and systems to ensure that if extreme weather happens, we know what to do and where to do it to minimize the long-term impacts.
Part of this story involves the community as well. Individuals, families, and neighbourhoods should put thought into extreme weather preparedness every now and again, and should help the City where possible to plan for these events. Getting set up with a backflow valve is just one way that homeowners can prepare themselves for these events.
On July 27th, 2016 the Whitemud flooded during a storm that poured 67 mm of rain. This type of storm is considered to be highly rare: however it’s the 4th since 2000. And it happened twice in four days. Extreme weather is not so rare anymore and Edmonton has responded with significant investments in residential drainage upgrades. We’re developing a Climate Adaptation Strategy but we need a provincial strategy as well. Developed in conjunction with the Cities, this would go a long way towards ensuring successful weather management in the future.
I have pressed, and continue to press, for long-term solutions for the Whitemud’s flooding issues. We need to understand how to increase its drainage capacity to avert flooding like this in the future and what this will cost. In the short-term, I would like to see Edmonton upgrade the electronic signs on the Whitemud to ensure that warnings can be quickly posted far ahead of the interchange if flooding occurs. We don’t want anyone needing to be rescued by a boat when it floods.
Edmonton has to be a leader in innovation in this area, but we need partners to help us think smarter and further ahead for adaptation. That's why it's important that we foster a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem of engineers, planners, developers, and thinkers that can help to drive emergency preparedness and climate adaptation in Edmonton.