Long-delayed flood regulation an inevitability

Tyler Clarke
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Prince Albert city manager Jim Toye and director of planning and development Rick Stuckenberg are seen at city hall this week, during which they explained the ins and outs of the city’s impending adherence to a one-in-500-year flood event elevation. The city currently adheres to a one-in-100-year flood event elevation. 

It’s been a topic of sporadic concern for decades, but Prince Albert adherence to the province’s one-in-500-year flood event elevation is inevitable.

“They’re just not going to make a certain policy just for the city of Prince Albert,” city manager Jim Toye said. “It’s a province-wide thing. They’ll work with us to try and mitigate.”

Planning and development director Rick Stuckenberg said that the province is aware of Prince Albert’s unique situation when it comes to the city’s adherence to stricter flood requirements.

Prince Albert is “perhaps a bit more unique of a situation than other cities in Saskatchewan, because the other municipalities … have what I call ‘high bank’ real estate with regard to the riverbank, and we don’t,” Stuckenberg explained. “We’re at a low elevation.”

About 2,500 city properties are estimated to be within the one-in-500-year flood event elevation. Including within these properties are the city’s water and sewage treatment plants, with the balance primarily private residences.  

“When you look at the scale of impact, I think we have to be really careful when we see how this plays out for the taxpayer -- and that’s both the city taxpayer and the provincial taxpayer,” Stuckenberg said.

“God forbid if there is a major flood -- We need to be able to respond.”

An idea that’s been slow-cooking in media and on coffee row for decades, the Daily Herald sat down with Toye and Stuckenberg on Wednesday to learn the latest news when it comes to the one-in-500-year flood event elevation.

It all dates back to the flooding of 1974, which spurred the federal government to enact the Flood Damage Reduction Program.

“In looking at risk mitigation across Canada, a number of different provinces have adopted different standards for flood reduction, and they go from a one-in-25-year flood risk to, as we currently have here in Saskatchewan because of the tabletop topography, a one-in-500,” Stuckenberg noted.

While the one-in-100-year flood event elevation the city currently adheres to hugs the riverbank, the one-in-500 spills over into a large swath of the city, with the 2,500 affected properties primarily in the west flat area.

“Our council, being very sensitive to what the impact would be on individual homeowners, did not fully subscribe to the uptake of that,” Stuckenberg said.

“What is it going to cost them? From a technical point of view, raising a building, putting a building on stilts, putting in a berm or some other mitigation measure to keep water away from your home, all has a cost.”

Such changes will be required for any new property within the one-in-500-year flood event elevation, Toye explained, noting that existing properties can be grandfathered in as existing non-conforming properties.

Staved off by the city’s elected officials for decades, adherence to the one-in-500-year flood event elevation is now provincial law and is therefore unavoidable.

In March, 2012, the one-in-500 year flood event elevation was included in the Statement of Provincial Interest. As such, if the city wants a new official community plan, zoning bylaw or subdivision bylaw, they will need to be in line with the flood regulation.

They’re just not going to make a certain policy just for the city of Prince Albert. Jim Toye

The first step toward adherence will be LiDAR photography -- a laser mapping of ground elevations via airplane.

The city is already drafting a request for proposal so they’re able to begin the tendering process, Toye said.

“It’s very precise, and it’s not just going to show where there’s flooding in the one-in-500, but where there might be three inches of flooding, or 10 feet,” he explained.

“A lot of people can handle three or five inches of flooding -- it’s where it’s five feet or 10 feet, that’s a lot different. This will really drill down and have a clear picture of what will be affected … and how it will be affected.”

“The photography will enable us to prepare new contour maps which will accurately identify the elevation and we can layer over the information with the help of the provincial government through the Water Security Agency, and draw that line … so we can identify where those respective properties are,” Stuckenberg summarized.

“We need confidence to tell those property owners if they are affected or not.”

Once the detailed topographical map has been completed the city can proceed with public meetings in conjunction with representatives from the provincial government.

The key to adherence to any flood event elevation is for buildings within the elevation to stay above the potential water line, Toye said, noting that there are various options to remain in compliance.

Infill, buildings on stilts, and protective berms can be used, while others may choose to have the main floor limited to a garage.

“There might be need for changing some of the electrical configurations in your home,” Stuckenberg said, adding that residents might need to move their electrical system or furnace above the basement level.

Ultimately, adherence to the new flood requirements will mean that it will cost more to build new structures within certain areas of the city.

How the city adheres to the flood requirements and what assistance the provincial government is willing to offer remains the key questions city officials hope to answer in the near future.

“They’re considering some options for us to respond to the local context, but still with an eye to public safety as being paramount,” Stuckenberg said.

“It’s been at play for more than 30 years, but it’s now a law so I guess we now have to face the reality.”

Although the city has yet to adopt the one-in-500-year flood event elevation, city administration has already cracked down on development in the areas deepest within the potential flood plain.

“There’s an area where we very strongly say to them, ‘this has been identified,’” Toye said. “We want to make them aware that they’re on the plain.”

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