Quebec lagging in flood management: professor

Academic urges Quebec to look to Europe as model to address flood management

MONTREAL — A Quebec academic says the province lags behind other jurisdictions when it comes to proactive flood management, but can easily catch up by adopting the model used in Europe.

Pascale Biron, a professor of geography, planning and environment at Concordia University, says Quebec lacks a centralized, governmental body to oversee, track and maintain data on potential vulnerable flood risk areas.

That pales in comparison to many Canadian provinces, parts of the United States and in particular Europe where, since 2007, countries have had to provide flood plain maps and clearly identify at-risk areas.

Biron said a simple Internet search in those jurisdictions leads residents to the valuable information.

“You never know where the next flood will hit, but at least there’s a much better level of preparation from the public safety perspective and you know exactly who’s at risk and you can take action,” Biron said.

“That’s where I say we’re really behind, because other countries are prepared because it’s a very obvious risk we have in Quebec.”

Parts of western and central Quebec have been battling unprecedented flooding for several weeks with more rain coming over the weekend.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said this week he wants communities to release any maps or data about flooding concerns in their communities in order to help themselves and residents make better decisions about building in flood-prone areas.

According to internal government documents obtained by The Canadian Press, some municipal leaders are wary about mapping and loath to publicize flood risk results, because they are concerned about reduced property values, an increase in a municipality’s legal liability and possible political backlash from voters.

Craig Stewart, vice-president federal affairs at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says finding better ways and places to build is a countrywide issue.

“We need to learn from our mistakes,” Stewart said. “We’re in a completely different era now of frequent, severe weather events.”

Stewart said Canadians have a right to know the risks that come with their properties.

He considers Ontario a leader in prohibiting development on flood plains since the 1960s, while cities like Halifax and Edmonton have been good about releasing information to the public.

Others have resisted due to financial and legal concerns.

In Quebec, water management has shifted increasingly to municipalities, while waterfront homes yield more taxes. Biron said those lucrative tax dollars partly explain why politicians lobby hard to get residents to rebuild in the same spot, despite the risks.

“There’s no incentive for mayors to stop development because, if you do, you’re potentially losing a lot of money,” Biron said.

The province deals with yearly spring flooding, with particularly terrible damage in 2011 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal.

Biron lamented there was no data collected from six years ago to use in models, as well as no notable post-mortem documents.

While there is a move toward getting more high-resolution elevation data, rectifying the situation doesn’t require reinventing the wheel, she said.

“We can just use what’s done elsewhere (like Europe) and apply it to Quebec,” Biron said.

“We have the scientists, we have everyone who can do the job. There’s no reason why we’re so behind. There’s just a lack of political willingness to put the structure in place.”

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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