On June 19th, 2013 rain began pouring from the Alberta sky and, combined with meltwater from the previous winter’s large snowpack, didn’t stop until it had caused the largest recorded flood in the region’s history. Local rivers surged with up to 10 times their normal flow rates and 27 states of emergency were called across the province. Though the immediate danger from the flood waters has receded one year later, the impacts still linger.
Take for example the economic costs of the floods. So far, the Alberta floods are the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history, and it will take up to 10 years to recover from the impacts. Over $191 million was paid out in disaster assistance to help communities rebuild, and the infrastructure losses include over 1,000 kmsof destroyed roads and hundreds of washed-away bridges and culverts that will all need to be replaced. Currently, the city of Calgary is considering one of three proposals to help mitigate future high water: a tunnel, a dam or a reservoir, all with a price tag in the area of $500 million. And then there are the local economic impacts. In Calgary's downtown 4,000 businesses were impacted and 3,000 buildings were flooded. The flood disrupted normal workdays, and an estimated 5. 1 million work hours were lost during the first month alone.
Canadian insurance companies are feeling the aftermath as well. After insurance payouts of $1.7 billion, the industry is considering changes to its flooding policies which would include increases in premiums and a reduction in coverage. This is bad news for homeowners in Canada. Most Canadian insurance policies do not cover overland flooding, and further changes to existing policies will cause further challenges for homeowners to receive compensation for flood damage.
Aside from the tangible economic costs, it’s hard to put a number on the human suffering caused by the flood. Four people lost their lives as a direct consequence, and over 100,000 people were displaced from their homes. As a result, the flooding caused significant emotional turmoil. The provincial government pledged additional money to help families cope with the emotional impacts of the floods, which have been measured by significant increases in access to crisis lines, increases in dispensed prescriptions for mental health drugs, and increases in noticeable anxiety and depression among school children.
Image Source: By Ryan L. C. Quan CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Added up, those are some pretty significant impacts. And the bad news is that the risk of flooding in Canada isn’t expected to diminish anytime soon. As further proof, a few weeks after the Alberta floods, Toronto was also hit by flooding. The floods caused over $850 million in property damage and are still Ontario’s most costly natural disaster.
And while we can’t be certain that the Alberta or Toronto floods were a direct result of climate change, we do know that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of flooding around the world, and more flooding in Canada is expected as a result of climate change. The Insurance Bureau of Canada notes that storms that were previously expected once every 40 years are now expected once every 6 years.
Even as the flood waters from last year have receded, the impacts of the last flood and risk of the next flood remain. Yesterday’s flood warning in southern Alberta is an uncanny reminder, and 11 states of emergency have now been called.
The Alberta floods have highlighted the real economic and social risk that natural disasters pose to Canadian communities. Policy makers at various levels of government are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of all Canadians, and their challenge will be to continue to improve policies that address these growing risks