QUEEN’S PARK — The Ontario government is taking action to strengthen the province’s resilience to flooding.
“The safety of the public and the protection of our communities is our number one priority,” said John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. “After last spring’s flooding, we recognized that we needed an external perspective on the current roles and responsibilities of the government, agencies and organizations involved in flood management – someone who could provide independent advice on improvements we can make.”
In July, Minister Yakabuski named Doug McNeil as Special Advisor on Flooding, and charged him with conducting an independent review of flood management and 2019 flooding events in Ontario. The Special Advisor delivered his report to the Ontario government on October 31.
In his review, Mr. McNeil confirmed that this year’s record-setting flooding in many parts of the province was caused by a combination of weather conditions: colder-than-average winter and spring, higher-than-average snowpack, lack of significant winter thaw, rapid snow melt and significant rain events in the spring.
Mr. McNeil found that nothing pointed to human error or negligent operation of water control structures as the cause of the flooding, and that the government and its partners were effective at reducing and mitigating flood risks.
“Mr. McNeil looked carefully at the core components of the Province’s approach to emergency management relative to last spring’s flood season and found that steps taken by individuals, municipalities, dam owners, and other agencies were effective in reducing further potential damage to communities,” said Minister Yakabuski. “We are pleased by this conclusion, and we appreciate Mr. McNeil’s practical advice for the Province and other parties to help us to become more flood resilient.”
Since the spring, the government has taken significant steps to help increase the province’s resilience to flooding:
· Initiated procurement for its first-ever broad, multi-sector provincial climate change impact assessment that will help the province, municipalities, Indigenous communities and other local partners make more informed decisions to keep communities and people healthy and safe.
· Opened the Green Stream infrastructure fund of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), enabling smaller municipalities to access approximately $200 million in federal and provincial funding to invest in critical water, wastewater and stormwater projects.
· Launched a $1 million pilot project under the Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance program to help municipalities rebuild damaged infrastructure to make it more resilient to extreme weather.
· Made it faster for property owners to get the approvals they need to repair flood-related damage to shorelines.
“I believe these measures will have an impact on stemming the effects of floods in the future. Increasing resiliency is a shared responsibility – all levels of government, agencies, developers and property owners have an important role to play,” said Jim McDonell, Member of Provincial Parliament for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry.
Ontario has already committed to taking the following actions to address recommendations from the Special Advisor’s report:
· Modernize regulations under the Conservation Authorities Act to have conservation authorities focus on their core mandate of protecting people and property from flooding and other natural hazards.
· Launch a comprehensive review of Ontario’s natural hazard technical guides and guidelines related to flood forecasting and warning.
· Ensure the continued investment of over $4.7 million in the hydrometric (stream gauge) network to enable flood forecasting and flood warnings that help municipalities better prepare for flood events.
The Province is reviewing the remaining recommendations along with its partners and will work together to increase the awareness of flood risks and help build Ontario’s resilience to flooding.
To date, the government has provided disaster recovery funding assistance of over $3.7 million to affected individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit organizations as a result of spring 2019 flooding.
In 2018, Ontario announced $5 million in a Watershed Conservation and Management Initiative to better identify risks and issues facing the Muskoka region and its watershed. The government also committed to matching tax-deductible donations from people and businesses to the initiative, and any funding from other levels of government, up to a total of an additional $5 million.
In summer 2019, the government appointed nine members to the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group to help identify the types of projects to protect the watershed and support economic growth in the region.
The Ontario government is committed to working with the federal government and Kashechewan First Nation to support the relocation of the First Nation to reduce the impacts of flooding on the community.
In spring 2019, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided approximately 890,000 sandbags to municipalities throughout southern and eastern Ontario and deployed over 60 Fire Ranger crews and additional support staff to many impacted municipalities.