Rising risk of spring flood threatens homes without flood coverage
Lac La Biche County declared a state of local emergency on June 8, due to overland flooding caused by high rainfall and drainage problems. About 2,300 residents in the area west of the hamlet, located 220 km northeast of Edmonton, were instructed to evacuate the area immediately.
The mandatory evacuation order, which was the latest to hit northern Alberta, underscores the risk of spring floods that Canadians face every year as warmer weather, snowmelt and spring storms converge to cause flooding.
With the rising incidence of severe weather events brought about by climate change, Canada is likely to see more springs floods that can exact a heavy financial toll on people and businesses alike.
“Provincial emergency management authorities have predicted certain communities across the country will likely experience flooding, and Canadians should be prepared,” said Vanessa Barrasa, media relations manager with the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) in Toronto.
Greg Foan, broker and owner of W.C. Burgess Insurance Services Ltd in Brockville, Ontario, agrees that Canada is likely to see more spring floods. “Changing weather patterns, aging urban infrastructure such as sewer lines, and the increased amount of paved or cement surfaces all add to the problem,” he said.
Last year, spring floods across Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick caused nearly $208 million in insured damage. Overflowing rivers was cited as the most common cause, resulting in road and basement flooding, submerged vehicles and shifted home foundations, according to Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc., a Toronto-based company that provides analytical and meteorological information on natural and man-made catastrophes in Canada.
“Each time a severe weather event happens, it reinforces the need to be better prepared,” Barrasa said.
According to the IBC, regular home insurance typically does not include flood coverage, because only a small percentage of the population is at risk for it. Since the purpose of insurance is to spread risk among many policyholders, this type of insurance would be unaffordable for those at risk.
“Coverage for those in high-risk areas is either unaffordable or requires all insurance rate payers to subsidize those rates,” Barrasa said. “This is why the insurance industry believes Canada needs a national action plan on flooding.”
This plan, Barrasa explained, includes investing in resilient infrastructure to protect communities from floods, improved flood mapping, establishing measures to relocate those at highest risk out of harm’s way, and making affordable overland flood insurance available to homes that are at high risk of flooding.
Residential flood coverage is relatively new in Canada. A number of Canadian insurers now offer residential overland flood insurance which, along with sewer backup coverage, helps reduce the financial risk of inland flooding events, Barrasa said.
But these products are optional and must be added to home-insurance policies for an additional premium. She advised consumers to contact their insurance representatives to ensure that their property is protected.
Factors that influence a home’s risk for flooding include the presence of a finished basement, a reverse-slope driveway, the property’s elevation with respect to its surrounding properties, and close proximity to a water source, such as a creek or river.
“Homeowners need to have additional policy endorsements to cover sewer or septic backup coverage, especially overland water coverage,” Foan said.
Foan recommends the following good practices to reduce the risk of flooding:
- Landscape the property so that water runs away from the home, not towards it.
- Keep eavestroughs and downspouts cleaned out.
- Maintain the sump pump if you have one, and attach a backup battery to it.
Engineering measures aside, having some form of financial protection against flooding is always a good precaution. “Make sure you have coverage,” Foan said.