PUBLISHED: 27 January 2016

Flood Mitigation: Flood and Compensate

What is ‘Flood and Compensate’?

In recent years, unprecedented flood events have impacted various jurisdictions around the world, including Alberta. As a result, many jurisdictions have taken measures to mitigate floods, including the implementation of off-stream reservoirs and diversion channels, which temporarily store/divert flood water to prevent property and infrastructure damage downstream.

While this measure protects the vast majority of a population, these mitigation measures often affect a small number of individuals such as landowners. In the event of a flood, an off-stream reservoir or diversion channel will divert the peak flood to nearby land to further reduce river flows. This approach leads to deliberate, albeit temporary, flooding on specified lands that may otherwise be used for productive activities such as livestock or crop farming. As a result, flood compensation programs are needed to compensate the loss suffered by the few people who are negatively impacted.

Sometimes referred to as Flood and Compensate models, these programs ensure flood waters are dissipated by diverting water to nearby land. Compensation occurs after the flood event passes and includes payment for economic loss. For example, if a farmer owns land near a river, that land could be used for flood mitigation and flooded when needed. When flood waters recede, the farmer would receive compensation payments for the economic losses incurred. This compensation would cover the cost of lost agricultural productivity.

How does this option help to mitigate the impacts of a flood?

Flood and Compensate helps mitigate the impacts of a flood by promoting the diversion and storage of flood water onto specified lands. This prevents peak flows from reaching downstream residents, which significantly reduces flood damage and losses at major population centres downstream. Moreover, by using engineered infrastructure, flood events can be more easily managed and controlled upstream of major cities, rather than at the cities themselves. The few landowners whose land is temporarily flooded due to the diversion/storage measure receive compensation to cover their losses.

Is Flood and Compensate already in place in Alberta?

Currently, Flood and Compensate is not implemented in Alberta. However, a Flood and Compensate approach was recently suggested as an alternative for operating the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir, which is a proposed temporary storage site for Elbow River flood water that would gradually release excess water back into the Elbow River in a controlled manner[1].

The aim of the Springbank Reservoir is to protect the majority of downstream residents, by implementing controlled infrastructure that will allow temporary flooding of specified lands upstream.  However, since temporary flooding will negatively impact a small number of residents, who currently use the reservoir’s land for a wide range of agricultural and recreational activities, the Government of Alberta is evaluating a Flood and Compensate model as an option for compensating affected households in the area[2].

What level of government is responsible?

Flood and Compensate programs can be the responsibility of several levels of government, including both regional and national authorities.

At a provincial level, Manitoba has implemented Flood and Compensate as a model for operating its Portage Diversion Fail-Safe, which is a diversion channel that prevents major flooding of the Assiniboine River and further safeguards residents of Winnipeg and numerous other municipalities[3]. For example, in 2014, excessive rainfall caused the Assiniboine River to run high and threaten severe downstream flooding. The Portage Diversion was used and helped protect many Manitobans from significant flood damage[4]. However, water diverted by the channel flooded a large section of farm land, which led to significant losses for farmers. To address this issue, the Government of Manitoba used the Flood and Compensate approach to compensate farmers for productivity losses, as well as losses associated with land restoration[5]. Specifically, the province made payments to crop and forage producers that owned more than 2,500 acres of affected land[6].

Scotland, on the other hand, has expressed great interest in a national Flood and Compensate approach to manage floods events, particularly since the Scottish Flood Risk Management Act acknowledges that property owners have the right to seek compensation from authorities for property-related losses caused by flood mitigation measures[7]. The Risk and Policy Association (RPA), in collaboration with Royal Haskoning DHV and Allathan Associates, recently conducted a study to identify compensation mechanisms for landowners that allow flood mitigation measures to be implemented on their land[8]. A key finding in this report highlights the need for a thorough understanding of how flood mitigation measures could impact farming businesses. This understanding would further aid in determining an acceptable level of compensation. The report also explained that flood storage areas, combined with compensation, are a promising alternative to reduce the overall costs of flooding[9].

Does this policy account for differences between jurisdictions?

In general, Flood and Compensate is an approach that can be applied across a wide range of jurisdictions, which is why we find examples of Flood and Compensate both in Canada and worldwide. However, specific models and policies for a given jurisdiction should account for regional differences in watersheds, flood mitigation structures, and land-use.

What is the scale and boundary of this policy?

The scale and boundary of a Flood and Compensate policy depends on the level of government responsible for developing the policy. For example, Scotland’s approach, which was mandated by the national government, extends nationwide. In Manitoba, however, Flood and Compensate policies would be localized to flood mitigation measures in the province of Manitoba.

What are the enforcement measures?

Flood and Compensate policies are enforceable, since authorities have the responsibility to use flood mitigation measures to protect their citizens. For example, during 2011 flooding, the Government of Manitoba was forced to use the Portage Diversion to divert flood water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba, protecting numerous downstream municipalities[10].

Compensation associated flood damage from such diversions are also enforceable. For example, in 2014, controlled flooding of farm lands in Manitoba led to the government providing over $1 million in compensation to affected land owners[11]. Similarly, in Scotland, national flood regulations acknowledge that property owners have the right to seek compensation from authorities for losses caused by flood mitigation measures[12]

What are the typical costs associated with Flood and Compensate?

Flood and Compensate models provide financial compensation to affected land owners in the event of a flood. As a result, the cost associated with Flood and Compensate depends largely on the frequency and severity of floods, as well as the scale of any mitigation measures employed.

It is worth noting, however, that Flood and Compensate has been identified as one of the more cost effective alternatives to flood management[13], since it promotes flood mitigation measures that protect major population centres, while allowing controlled flooding of designated lands, which helps minimize losses for the majority of residents. Flood and Compensate can also help minimize costs by reducing the land that needs to be acquired by the government, since land is not purchased from affected residents. Instead, affected residents remain land owners and are only compensated in the event of a flood.

What are the environmental and watershed impacts of Flood and Compensate?

Flood and Compensate promotes the controlled flooding of specified lands, which may lead to significant land disturbance in these areas. Consequently, the severity of environmental damage will depend largely on the scale and characteristics of the flood mitigation measures employed.

Would a Flood and Compensate help in a drought?

Flood and Compensate models aim primarily to help protect the majority of a jurisdiction’s residents from flood damage, by compensating select landowners upstream for controlled flooding on their lands. As a result, Flood and Compensate would not directly help counteract the negative impacts of a drought. 

[1] “Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir (Elbow River Basin).” Government of Alberta.

[2] “New Money for Flood Mitigation as Province makes Controversial Decision.” 660 News.

[3] Portage Diversion. Government of Manitoba.

[4] “Manitoba Government Announces Compensation for Farmers Affected by the use of the Portage Diversion Fail-Safe.” Government of Manitoba.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Scottish Flood Risk Management Act. Scottish Government.

[8] “Natural Flood Management – Assessing the Mechanisms for Compensating Land Managers.” The Scottish Government.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Portage Diversion. Government of Manitoba.

[11] “Manitoba Government Announces Compensation for Farmers Affected by the use of the Portage Diversion Fail-Safe.” Government of Manitoba.

[12] Scottish Flood Risk Management Act. Scottish Government.

[13] Ibid.