As the battle to protect homes from flooding continues across the country, questions are being asked about whether it’s time to reconsider regulations that allow developers to build on flood plains.
Jason Thistlethwaite, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo’s faculty of environment, says the problem is that municipalities set zoning regulations and collect property tax revenue but do not pay for rebuilding costs after natural disasters.
“The municipality really doesn’t have an incentive to go in and use land-use planning and building codes and communications strategies to tell people that they are at risk of flooding, particularly given that most of the revenue comes from development, it comes from property taxes.” Thistlethwaite said. “So they face a real conflict of interest…
Last February, the Parliamentary Budget Office released a report estimating that over the next five years the federal government will dole out an estimated $902 million a year in disaster-related relief to provinces and territories.
I could see at least two good arguments against building in flood plains:
- The financial costs in the long run. Of course, the suggestion here is that local communities don’t bear the costs. But, even if they are paid at higher levels, the costs are going to get passed down eventually. Additionally, communities might benefit from property taxes but the reconstruction times and costs also would limit the property taxes they can collect.
- Environmental reasons: it can’t be good to have buildings and other debris from the built environment consistently washed into waterways. Limiting development on floodplains also allows for rivers and other waterways to go through natural cycles.
Either could be a good enough reason. However, as noted above, it is very difficult for communities to pass up on allowing development on desirable properties. There are similar situations in the United States.
One of the better options I’ve seen in some suburbs is to convert these flood areas to parks. This accomplishes two purposes: (1) when flooding does occur, the damage is reduced since it affects fewer buildings and (2) having a park nearby can enhance property values and the quality of life.