Repeat floods on your property and ankle-deep water in your home is no picnic. But unless a disaster is declared, don’t expect any help.
Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) kicks in when the provincial government declares the event a disaster, as happened in the flood event of 2010. The DFA program covers 80 percent of the amount of the total eligible damage that exceeds $1,000; the maximum amount payable per applicant category is $300,000.
To be eligible for DFA, the damage must be from an “uninsurable” event such as overland flooding. Those rules are changing with the advent of residential flood insurance, but it certainly isn’t a straight-forward process.
A press release from Emergency Management BC (EMBC) dated from May 4, 2016 states that “the purpose of DFA is to help individuals and small business owners recover from uninsurable disasters.”
However, it goes on to state that “until recently overland flood insurance was only available for commercial buildings. It is expected that in the next two years this insurance will be reasonably and readily available for single family residential homes across all of BC.”
According to Terry Lloyd, a consumer information officer with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, there is a significant difference between “overland” flooding and the flooding we generally see here in the Bella Coola Valley.
“Overland flood insurance is designed to cover water that enters the home through a major downpour of rain in a residential area,” he explained. “As far as I’m aware, there still isn’t any residential insurance available in Canada to cover the type of flooding your community typically experiences.”
Lloyd explained that changing weather patterns throughout the past decade have prompted insurance agencies to make changes to their insurance policies regarding water damage, but often times it’s been to remove items previously covered.
“If you’re in a flood zone the insurance probably won’t be available to you,” said Lloyd. “There was an incident in the US where a homeowner was paid out 27 times due to flood damage and now the government has simply changed the law so the insurance is no longer available.”
Tom Hermance and Carsten Ginsburg’s property did not flood in 2010, but about four inches of water entered the house during last week’s high water event. The couple live alongside the Saloompt River and have done as much as they possibly can to try and prevent damage to their home. They said they could feel their house moving throughout the night and had to lash their new back deck onto the home to save it.
“After 2010 we aquired a lot of rip rap but we could only afford to do about half of our yard because it is so expensive to deliver and place,” said Hermance. “When we first bought the property the river was quite far away but it’s moved a lot closer.”
Johanna Morrow, Manager of Recover and Funding Programs with EMBC, said that there is little financial assistance the province can offer when flooding is limited to one or two homes.
“People are responsible for managing risks on their property,” said Morrow. “There is no duty or legal responsibility for local or provincial governments to provide financial aid.”
Morrow did acknowledge that the effects of climate change have resulted in more extreme weather events and that many residents in flood-prone areas are powerless to make the changes required to protect their homes. Morrow said that best thing for residents to do is work with their local government to affect change.
So where does that leave residents who are in some of the most vulnerable areas of the Valley, not to mention the rest of the population? Projects such as flood mitigation and prevention are extremely costly and simply not affordable given the Valley’s small tax base.
As an example, the 2013 replacement of a single dike along the airport was expected to cost over a million dollars and take local taxpayers 30 years to repay. Multiply that amount by the number of dikes (and their varying sizes) in the Valley and you get the idea.
Despite these challenges, CCRD Area E Director Sam Schooner said that addressing flooding is a big priority within the regional district.
“We are working toward being proactive rather than reactive. We had a great meeting with Minister Farnworth (Public Safety) and our MLA Jennifer Rice (Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness) during the wildfires and we put the issue of flood mitigation on the table. Flood mitigation is tough for us, it’s mostly a provincial responsibility, but when they don’t do their part, it’s our community members paying the price with their homes and security,” said Schooner.
Schooner explained that the “orphaned” dikes (such as the one by the airport) are a problem as the regional district simply cannot afford to take them on, and that the regional district is updating their emergency plans and continues to make emergency preparedness a priority.
However, there have been some changes in the past few years that could provide some relief.
In recognition of increasing disaster risks and costs, the federal government earmarked $200 million in 2014 over five years to establish the National Disaster Mitigation Program (NDMP) as part of its commitment to “build safer and more resilient communities.”
The NDMP was established in April 2015 to reduce the impacts of natural disasters on Canadians by focusing investments on significant, recurring flood risk and costs, and advancing work to facilitate private residential insurance for overland flooding.
“We have also approved some big ticket funding proposals to move forward dealing specifically with flood risk assessment and we are hopeful all the advocacy we have been doing with the province to make our region a priority will pay off,” said Schooner. “We are coming up to our planning for the next year which is an opportunity for us to clarify how much work we expect staff to put into helping our community prepare. This is always a balancing act with all the other needs we have to keep our services going. I’m looking forward to chairing our next Emergency Executive Committee Meeting to be held at Snootli Creek Hatchery later in November now that the restructuring of the Committee is almost complete.”
For the Valley, a focus on investments for significant, recurring flood risks and costs is key, as most residents would not likely not qualify for residential overland flood insurance.
Provincial and territorial governments are the eligible recipients for funding under the NDMP. However, they may collaborate with, and redistribute funding to eligible entities, such as municipal or other local governments, public sector bodies, private sector bodies, band councils, international non-government organizations or any combination of these entities.
There are four funding streams under the NDMP: Risk Assessments, Flood Mapping, Mitigation Planning, and Investments in Non-structural and Small Scale Structural Mitigation Projects.
According to the October 12 Board Meeting Minutes, the CCRD has applied for funding from the National Disaster Mitigation Program but specific details have not been released.
Marvin Schmunk with the Nusatsum Property Owners Association (NPOA) has applied for two applications with the NDMP: one to repair and complete the Nusatsum Bridge groyne, and another for a Lidar project to provide flood assessment data, and the CCRD has also supported his application.
“A significant change to the National Disaster Mitigation Program is the fact that a “data base” for this kind of work is now federally and provincially mandated,” explained Schmunk. “This means there is now a record on file, stating both the degree of hazard and proposed solution, and this is a step in ensuring accountability at all levels of government.”
Announcements of successful recipients for the NDMP program are expected to be released in spring of 2018.