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July 14, 2024

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Update 2019/7/12

brought to you in part by

Flood Control Canada


By Gillian Ward

It can be too much, too fast or desperately lacking. No life on earth can be without it. It is the fond subject of our daily observations and work here at Water Today. In this article, we consider the increasingly urgent need to contain and control water.

For nomads, water security and flood risk mitigation are simple functions of mobility; pulling up stakes to move toward the watering hole or shifting clear of rising flood waters. Since the time of settlement in permanent communities, humanity has built dams and aqueducts, to control the flow of water while we hold our positions. Our cities have grown up around dams, providing our basic needs, providing for flood control, irrigation for crops, energy production, industrial needs, navigation and recreation.

From the first dam built, safety has been an issue. Dams are designed to handle seasonal peak flows, but the extreme weather events of recent years challenge the integrity of dams around the globe. When a dam fails, the outcome can be devastating for the environment, for human safety and property values.

The International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) was formed ninety years ago, to improve dam function and safety through sharing of professional information on dam design, construction, maintenance and impact among its member nations. ICOLD gathered in Ottawa in June for its annual conference, where dam safety in changing environmental conditions was discussed.

Emmanuel Grenier, spokesperson for ICOLD shared with WaterToday, “After a steady decline in dam failures since the foundation of ICOLD in 1928, dam failures have increased again during the last decade. This has motivated ICOLD President Michael Rogers (USA) to make Dam Safety one of the focus of his mandate. A World Declaration on Dam Safety is being prepared and should be issued later this year.”

As for Canada, Don Butcher, Executive Director of Canadian Dam Association told WaterToday that dam safety is top priority in Canada. “Making and keeping dams safe is a constant effort”, says Butcher. Every dam construction project is completely unique, with its own geology and topography features, peak flows, fluid dynamics and climate considerations. Engineers design each dam with all such factors in mind, but still, the building and maintaining of a dam’s structural integrity over the long term is complicated. Time wears on the structure and the activity around the dam can change over time. Climate change only makes all of this more complex.

Dam failures are always dreadful, whether intentional or accidental. The risk of catastrophic environmental damage and loss of life is so serious that dams have been protected under International Humanitarian Law post WWII, to safeguard their function in restraining destructive forces. Even still, natural events are increasing the pressure on these critical pieces of our infrastructure.

Butcher says, “Canada has a highly sophisticated dam engineering community, recognized worldwide. Canadian dam engineers are constantly learning and are quick to share their lessons with each other.” Even still, extreme weather presents new challenges all the time, testing the design and function of the dams.

While we may not agree or understand the cause of it, data and experience present irrefutable evidence that more extreme weather will continue in the future and we need to be ready. Presentations at Western Economic Diversification’s Prairie Water Summit in June drew attention to the reality of extreme weather trends and changes, including rainfall patterns and timing, increasing temperatures in many parts of Canada.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that insured damages across Canada reached $1.9 billion in 2018. Flooding in Eastern Canada in 2019 reached $208 million in damages. Some twice-hit homeowners have reported that their flood claims were only partially covered or denied and cost for home repairs and sandbagging are now borne by personal savings and borrowing.

Canada’s Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has been administering the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) fund since 1970. Minister Goodale informed participants in the Prairie Water Summit in June that more disbursements from the fund have gone out in the last six years than in the four decades prior, combined.

Municipalities, academics and organizations have been encouraged to collaborate a response to the increasing risk of flooding. Several sources of funding are available for climate adaptation for communities.

Canada Infrastructure launched the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) in 2017 and made initial project disbursements in 2018. The two-billion-dollar fund is intended for a ten-year term, a national, merit-based program to assist communities to protect critical infrastructure and safeguard people and property.

Municipal, provincial and federal governments are expected to provide relief when floods, droughts or wildfires strike. According to Federation of Canadian Municipalities President, Bill Karsten, “Responding and adapting to new weather extremes requires collaboration among all orders of government—but people often look to their local governments for solutions first.”

Through the federally funded Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program, Climate adaptation partners provide municipalities with “training, guidance and learning activities to municipalities as they adapt to the effects of climate change. The Clean Growth Hub combines the funding programs of several federal departments and commercially viable projects are eligible to apply for financing through the Canada Infrastructure Bank (www.cib-bic.ca).

Water Today will report further on emerging technologies and options available for coordinated municipal flood control in Part 2, coming July 16, 2019.


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