More than ever and in all sorts of situations, floods are becoming a major issue in our lives. Responsible for astronomical costs due to extreme damages to property, public areas or the environment, it will affect you directly or indirectly.
The 2013 Calgary flood is a great example.
The estimated cost was evaluated to $6 billion but, in addition to damage costs, productivity lost, reduced worked hours and GDP losses due to the need of resources put towards recovery efforts and away from daily activities should also be considered as part of flooding costs.
The amount of money spent on insurable losses varies depending on the extent of flooding, property type impacted, individual insurance policy and political circumstances. After the June 2013 flood, the Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated that insured property damage exceeded $1.7 billion and is expected to rise.
While overland flood insurance is not offered in Canada, some homes and businesses were able to prove that sewer back-up occurred before overland flooding took place and received compensation for their losses. Additionally, Albertans were both surprised and outraged after the June 2013 flood to find out that overland flooding is not included in insurance policies. For this reason, political influence resulted in some insurers covering claims originally rejected due to the flooding.
Throughout southern Alberta, businesses located along the Bow, Elbow, Highwood and Oldman Rivers as well as local tributaries were forced to shut down and evacuate. Southern Alberta’s largest city center, downtown Calgary, was forced to shut down for nearly one week in order for flood waters to recede and for the area to be considered safe to re-enter. While many Albertans were able to continue working remotely or from home, many industries such as the service industry were unable to work from home resulting in lost revenue and wages.
While wage and productivity losses were more pronounced in the final two weeks of June, some businesses have found recovery to take many months. While the impacts of flooding are devastating for any city, region or country, and the resultant economic losses prove damaging to the overall economy and well-being of citizens. In contrast to the economic losses experienced in the event of a flood, recovery and rebuild efforts that occur after a flood can recuperate lost revenue and/or business that occurred during the flood.
The June 2013 flood resulted in an increase in business outside of the flood zone and, despite negative economic impacts, resulted in a GDP boost for Alberta due to reconstruction efforts. Businesses located outside the flood impacted areas or evacuated zones may have experienced an increase in business as flood affected businesses were unable to provide goods and services. While the flood had direct negative impacts on Alberta’s economy, indirect impacts increased business activities both outside of the flood zone and after flood waters receded.
Flooding does not only result in destroyed infrastructure and damaged property, but also has an adverse social impact on citizens affected by the natural disaster.
The impacts of flooding on physical and mental health can be extensive. Result can be the loss of life, emotional consequences, stress and anxiety. The stress of dealing with a traumatic event can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions and lead to a variety of illnesses that continue to impact lives long after flood waters have receded.
Flood waters are often contaminated with debris, pollutants and sometimes even sewage that pose the potential for serious injury or death for those who come into contact. Furthermore, fast moving and murky water can create additional dangers that cannot be seen such as sinkholes, moved manhole covers and sharp objects. Thus, the risks to one’s physical health are always present until flood waters have receded and clean-up efforts begin. Before, during and after a flood require due diligence and safety measures to be implemented to protect individuals from being impacted.
Over time, the indirect social impacts of flooding can be felt. Citizens can become impatient and unsatisfied with decision-makers in provincial and municipal government as well as insurance companies and other service providers. This dissatisfaction can manifest and result in negative political implications for decision-makers.
Flooding can directly impact: the health and wellbeing of wildlife and livestock; riverbank erosion and sedimentation; the dispersal of nutrients and pollutants; surface and groundwater supplies; and local landscapes and habitats.
Storm water runoff is one of the most significant threats to ecosystems along the coastal areas of the U.S. As the water runs over and through the watershed, it picks up and carries contaminants and soil. The blotches of leaked motor oil on parking lots, plastic grocery bags, pesticides, fertilizers, detergents, and sediments are known as non-point source pollutants. If untreated, these pollutants wash directly into waterways carried by runoff from rain and snow melt. These contaminants can infiltrate groundwater and concentrate in streams and rivers and can be carried down the watershed and into the ocean. Non-point source pollution is linked to the creation of large dead-zones (areas with minimal oxygen) in the ocean and also threatens coral reef ecosystem health around the world.
Wildlife and Livestock Health and Well-being
Flooding can affect the health and well-being of wildlife and livestock. Large quantities of water can negatively affect natural and ranching and farming habitats. If a flood is large enough, it can result in a loss of wildlife and biodiversity in the flooded region. This may reduce the level of biodiversity, habitat potential and food present in the ecosystem, creating long-term impacts for surviving wildlife.
Riverbank Erosion and Sedimentation
Riverbank erosion is caused by high and fast moving water that exceeds riverbanks. The impact of riverbank erosion is most felt in developed areas.
Sediment may act as a form of non-point source water pollution that can clog riverbeds and streams as well as reduce storage capacity for reservoirs and wetlands. Flood waters can carry large amounts of sediment and leave deposits behind once flood waters recede. If extreme enough, sedimentation can degrade water quality and temporarily affect municipal, industrial and recreational water supply.
Dispersal of Nutrients and Pollution
Flood water can contain debris, pollutants and nutrients. Debris can include trees and stones, or even pieces of houses. Pollutants in flood water, such as bacteria and pesticides, can be carried far distances. Sedimentation and turbidity can result in the growth of algae and phytoplankton blooms that jeopardize water quality.
Important nutrients and mineral deposits can also be dispersed by flood water, resulting in improved plant growth and overall ecosystem health. Over time, the nutrients, organic material and sediment carried by flood waters and deposited on the landscape can provide fertility benefits.
Replenishment of Surface and Groundwater
One of the positive direct benefits of flooding is the replenishment of surface water and groundwater supplies. The replenishment of supplies can benefit soil, resulting in healthy crops and pastures.
Local Landscape and Habitat
Flooding can change local landscapes and habitats. For example, John Pomeroy, a professor and water researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, explained that the 2013 Alberta floods changed the Rocky Mountains and foothills region, thus altering everything from how future floods will play out to how animals will build habitats in these regions
In urban areas, flooding can be extremely damaging and costly, as it can negatively impact infrastructure, homes and businesses. In the natural environment, however, flooding has a more positive impact on the natural environment as flood water provides nourishment to the landscape.
I might have omitted many more possible consequences but one thing we know for sure is that all will be affected by a flood one way or the other in our lifetime.
We all have the responsibility to be prepared, get informed and plan ahead a mitigation plan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a lot of documentation available on their website. Here are a few interesting links available for your viewing.