Back in the 1970s, the provincial government established guidelines for floodways and 100 year flood zones. This was well before my time living here, let alone being on council, and I'm not sure if it was ever adopted by the city, or factored into any decisions, since building has subsequently occurred within that zone without any restrictions. More recently, in the time of the previous mayor, more restrictive zoning, to allow for a 500 year flood zone, was established by the province. Flood zones are merely a way of assessing risk, that at some point within the specified time frame, it is more than 90% likely that a flood will occur which extends to the area within the zone.
It is, of course, a difficult prediction, with the accuracy of the prediction being reduced the longer it's extended. And climate change makes it even more difficult to make accurate predictions. Nevertheless, the province has set a new 500 year flood zone, which council has not yet adopted. Our new city planner has suggested that we do so, to enable us to move forward with a new community plan.
Thursday evening we held a community meeting, and we will hold another meeting in May. Not surprisingly, the couple of hundred people in attendance had many questions, and unfortunately we don't have a lot of answers. But starting with questions is a good first step, although we're in a bit of a difficult spot - the province has set the rule, and we can't fight it or opt out, we just have to figure out how to move forward. I think having these meetings is a good first step in doing that.
What most people want to know is what difference this will make moving forward. The rules for new house construction are clear - the lack of clarity comes with how current home owners and their properties are affected. For example, are they required to flood-proof their residences? Apparently, this is not mandatory, but it isn't clear what would happen if you don't take those steps, and then are affected by a flood. Will there be areas that are off-limits for any new construction, no matter what adaptations are made?
Not surprisingly, most of the questions that came at the meeting related to the effect that these new guidelines will have on current property values. Will there be a caveat attached to properties in the event of resale? I think that anyone can understand the concern that people have when what is probably their greatest financial asset may no longer be valued at what it might have been, but it is also true that the value of a property can't be definitively set until it is sold.
Change is a constant in everyone's lives - our best recourse is to determine the range of potential effects, and try to mitigate them whenever possible. We can't guarantee that those whose homes lie within the new flood zone guidelines will not have to deal with some change, but the more questions we can find answers for, and the more information that we can provide, either through meetings, reports, or one-on-one conversations, the better prepared we will be for whatever lies ahead.
"It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark." - Howard Ruff