The federal government has pledged $1.3 million toward the development of a hydrology model that could help predict the frequency and severity of future flood and drought events in Alberta.
Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins announced the funding on Tuesday at the Lacombe Research Centre. The money will be provided under the federal-provincial Growing Forward 2 program, with the Lacombe-based Alberta Federation of Agriculture overseeing the project.
“The funding being provided to AFA will allow us to immediately begin working with private consultants in agricultural risk and also with a team of world-renowned hydrological and climate change scientists based out of Waterloo, Ontario, to generate a computer simulation model that can track all aspects of the hydrological system,” said Lynn Jacobson, president of the federation.
“We think that once this model is developed it can be used to quantify the frequency, geographical extent and severity of water-related events that have happened in the past. This information can then be used to build insurance products and/or assess risk mitigation strategies.”
For instance, the feasibility of constructing a dam or flood diversion system might be assessed by comparing the cost of that work to the anticipated losses it should prevent.
Heading the project is Rick McConnell of consulting firm Dymac Risk Management Solutions Ltd. of Lacombe.
He’ll be working with Waterloo’s Aquanty Hydrosphere Analytics, which has created an advanced hydrology model that would be customized and applied to the South Saskatchewan River basin.
The model will be “calibrated” with detailed historical information about flood and drought events in the area, said McConnell.
“Once you’ve got the model built using the platform, then you can ask the model any questions you wish — as long as it has something to do with water.”
That model should provide the insurance industry with reliable information it can use to develop policies related to agricultural losses due to flooding, excess moisture and drought.
“Who we’re actually looking at showcasing it to are insurance companies and even, more importantly, re-insurance companies, said McConnell.”
Calkins said the model could ultimately be applied to other regions of the country — both urban and rural.
Information provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said the federal and provincial governments have responded to water-related disasters on the Prairies through the AgriRecovery program on 16 occasions.
Due to the current lack of risk exposure data and mapping information, the insurance industry has been reluctant to respond with flood insurance.
“The goal is to get the private sector financial services industry more engaged in the process to give Canadian farmers more and better ways to manage the risk of farming,” said Calkins.
Jacobson said the Alberta Federation of Agriculture has already been working on this initiative for more than a year, and has a broad base of support from the agricultural sector and insurance industry. Contributions by those stakeholders will bring the project budget up to about $2 million, he said.
“We have great hopes for this project.”