Last month Thunder Bay area had a heck of a downpour.
Roads washed out. Sewers backed up. Thousands of homes and businesses have water (and worse!) in our basements. I was one. MPs John Rafferty and myself, Bruce Hyer, immediately researched the Federal Disaster Financial Assistance Agreement, and relayed that information to the city, Minister Gravelle, and MPP Bill Mauro.
It required that the city declare an emergency, keep track of all flood related costs (including to small businesses and homes), apply to the province for disaster relief, and ask Ontario to declare our region a disaster area.
On a sliding scale the federal government will share costs based on a formula that starts at zero for the first $13 million, half for the next $13 million, and increasing dramatically as costs rise.
The Federal Public Safety Minister assured me that he will help.
City workers, firefighters, police officers, non-profits like Salvation Army and RFDA, many churches, and just plain hero citizens have all worked tirelessly to help families in need. There has also been anxiety, anger, frustration, and blame.
Sections of the city are built in hazard areas. There is a reason that they are called flood plains but we hoped the hundred year flood would come in 100 years.
We combined storm and sewage drains. Many cities’ building codes require anti-backup sewage valves for our homes; ours did not. Some of us continue to ignore the clear science of human-caused climate change, with implications for extreme weather events like droughts, floods, dramatic temperature changes, and violent storms .
We all make mistakes, people and organizations alike. Hopefully we learn from them, and try not to make the same ones twice. We can look ahead and make the investments in strategic planning, policies, and infrastructure to avoid or reduce future problems.
Last week I attended the release of a report by the Climate Change Adaptation Project, led by University of Waterloo and key financial and insurance moguls. They are not optimistic about the current Canadian government doing much to reduce greenhouse gasses to prevent dangerous climate change.
“The continued increase of atmospheric carbon abundance is as near certain as any properly sceptical scientist would admit.... We are obliged to assume that high CO2 levels will be associated with climates inconsistent with our present way of life.... We must therefore, learn to adapt to climate change.”
Climate Change Adaptation: A Priorities Plan for Canada predicts that Northwestern Ontario and the Hudson Bay area will be wetter and warmer than in the past – up to 4-8 degrees Celsius warmer on average when your two-year-old toddler is 40 years old.
Their panel of experts rated the sectors by the urgency of priority for adaption as follows:
• City Infrastructure
• Aboriginal communities
No. 1 on their list is city infrastructure.
We need to determine infrastructure vulnerability to climate-induced failure. It will not be cheap, but the costs of not doing so will likely be far higher. We need to assess risk and engineering vulnerability in our planning. It is timely, because the City’s Official Plan Review is now in progress. The Earthwise processes are a great start.
Addressing infrastructure needs will require engineers, planners, managers, climate scientists, and other professionals working with politicians and citizens. It will require cooperation between Federal, Provincial, and municipal governments.
I will do my part to seek information, intergovernmental coordination, and financial resources.
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