jueves, 4 de julio de 2013

Alberta floods a wake up call to dangers of extreme weather: experts

ORIGINAL: Ottawa Citizen
By Elizabeth Payne, OTTAWA CITIZEN
 June 28, 2013

‘Water the new fire’ as a danger to property

Planners should learn from the Calgary floods and prepare better for devastating weather-related events, experts say. Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD , THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA — The Alberta floods are Canada’s Hurricane Sandy moment, and should be a catalyst for badly needed changes to limit future damage from extreme weather, say experts on climate change adaptation.

In many cases, the standards for where and how we build are completely out of date with a climatically changed future,” said Ian Mauro, Canada Research Chair in human dimension and environmental change at Mount Allison University. The Alberta floods, he said, should be a wake-up call that “we need to seriously rethink how we build structures, where we build structures and how we manage in emergency situations.

Not only do cities and towns need to stop building in flood-prone areas, but infrastructure such as bridges need to be reassessed with extreme weather events in mind. The failing railway bridge over Calgary’s Bow River underlined the catastrophic potential of doing nothing, said Mauro.

This is just the beginning,” he said. “this isn’t fearmongering, this is a call to action to inspire people to build resilient communities to be able to deal with impending superstorms of the future.

Water, is considered the new fire — it now accounts for more property damage every year in Canada than from fire. But, while many building and zoning regulations were historically developed to lessen the risk of fire, the response to water damage has been inconsistent and weak.

Many Canadian cities and towns, for example, don’t even have up-to-date floodplain maps, basic information they need to understand flood risks, says the chair of the Climate Change Adaptation Project Canada.

Blair Feltmate, an associate professor of environment and business at the University of Waterloo, said there is an urgent need for new floodplain maps across Canada as a starting point.

We are having more extreme weather than we’ve had historically and we have to know what will be the manifestation in terms of flooding and where the water will go. We need to know where we should build and where we should not build and we should not be building in areas where there is a high probability of flooding.

The dangers of building in flood prone areas also need to be taken more seriously, he said. They are either poorly understood or cavalierly ignored in many parts of the country. “Municipalities have put more homes in places where there should not be homes. We can’t continue to do that.

In some cases, he said, construction is allowed in flood prone areas because property owners and officials don’t believe there is any real danger. “We have management by disaster. In the absence of disaster, we assume disaster will not occur.”

Not only have many municipalities, including Calgary, allowed building in flood prone areas, but it is often premium property because of its proximity to water.

There are examples of municipalities that have bought buildings and changed zoning rules to keep infrastructure away from water, but those are rare.

Bruce Reid of the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority said a federal-provincial program to update flood plane maps has not been funded for years. The authority has managed to update many of its flood estimates, he said, even though some of the maps are out of date.

Some of the push to update infrastructure and policies to adapt to a changing climate is coming from the insurance industry. Impact Financial, which funds the University of Waterloo-based Climate Change Action Project, is paying for the construction of bioswales — landscaped storm water drains — in cities across Canada as demonstration projects in the hopes that governments will build more if they work.

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