Skip to main content

A partly submerged commuter train in the greater Toronto area.

HANDOUT/Reuters

It will come as little comfort to residents of Calgary and Toronto trying to cope after their homes and cars were swept up in flooding, but now is the moment for political leaders to embrace a proverbial ounce of prevention.

The ditches, dikes and other infrastructure that help stop floods are not a "hugely sexy thing," as Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi put it after surveying the wreckage in southern Alberta. They are a tough political sell, built for presumed future events that are hard to predict and mostly invisible when they work.

But such measures can also be relatively inexpensive, which should resonate as the Insurance Bureau of Canada predicts that Toronto's floods will cost more than $600-million, and a major bank estimates Calgary's cleanup and repair bills at $3-billion. It should be as easy as ever to make the case for smart spending before the next great storm clouds roll in.

Story continues below advertisement

Experts are describing more frequently extreme weather across the country as a "new normal." Environment Canada has said plainly that we live in a warmer world, where heavy deluges of rain are more frequent and volatility in weather patterns is on the rise. And over the past 15 years, insurance companies have seen flooding surge past fires as their main cost in claims.

Faced with clear trends, municipal leaders should take a keen interest in immediate solutions.

The University of Waterloo, for example, is leading the Climate Change Adaptation Project Canada, designing and testing new "bioswails" – 10-metre-long cement ditches filled with rocks and plants that drain at the bottom. Blair Feltmate, the professor who chairs the project, predicts the return on investment for one bioswail could be 10 to 100 times. Put simply, a ditch that costs $100,000 to build could avert $4-million in future damage; imagine how much 40 well-placed bioswails might save.

Even climate-change skeptics who note that extreme weather has often occurred in history can agree that Dr. Feltmate's math is appealing.

Smaller solutions like these should not come at the expense of disaster-response readiness, and those who have worked tirelessly to mitigate the recent floods must be commended. Nor will the large-scale infrastructure renewal so badly needed in many municipalities be any less necessary. But when the next flood washes in – and it will – some minor forward thinking might prevent some major headaches.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies