PUBLISHED: 17 December 2013

Flood Mitigation: Stricter Building Codes and Zoning Bylaws

What are stricter building codes? 

As a form of flood mitigation, stricter zoning bylaws restrict developments in floodplains while building codes reduce the risk of infrastructure damage. These methods of flood mitigation address the long-term issue of flooding and risk to property either by building infrastructure capable of withstanding floods or by relocation efforts. While many soft and hard engineering options exist to mitigate against flooding, these policy options either relocates important infrastructure and private property to areas outside of the floodplain or strengthen infrastructure to withstand flooding[1]

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

Stricter building codes help to mitigate potential damage caused by high water levels. This method is typically implemented after major flooding occurs, therefore, is part of the recovery and rebuilding process that leads to further flood preparedness. For example, in Manitoba the flood damage reduction program discourages developments in floodplains and high risk areas; as a result, subsequent flooding of the Red River has caused less damage to infrastructure and homes[2].  

For home and business owners, the following measures can be implemented to ensure buildings can withstand flooding; refurnish basements with water resistant materials that can easily be cleaned, seal basements to prevent seepage, protect or move electrical equipment in the basement to the upstairs, and protect plumbing equipment from sewage back-up[3]

Are stricter building codes already in place in Alberta? 

In Alberta, stricter building codes have not been implemented on a large-scale, however, after the 2013 flood the provincial government has considered the option of stricter building codes and relocation such as limiting construction in high-risk areas[4]. For example, since the 1980’s the town of Drumheller has implemented stricter building codes that require homeowners to raise their property if on the floodplain. These efforts proved effective for Drumheller, which experienced very little damage from the 2013 flood[5]

What level of government is responsible? 

Responsibility for improved building codes lies with the provincial government who can enforce building codes and standards that can withstand flooding. After the 2013 flood in Alberta, the provincial government released the Disaster Recovery Program in southern Alberta and the Wood Buffalo municipality. This program allowed for individuals to apply for funding to install flood mitigation measures in their homes and businesses[6]. While the opportunity for funding was provided by the provincial government, home and business owners were ultimately responsible for making the choice to implement stricter building codes that could prevent extensive flood damage. On the other hand, zoning bylaws are typically the responsibility of municipalities. 

Does this policy account for differences between jurisdictions? 

Stricter building codes do not need to account for differences between jurisdictions. Instead, building codes are implemented to protect home and business owners from extensive flood damage. The techniques used for flood protection typically apply across jurisdictions. 

What is the scale and boundary of this policy?

Stricter building codes apply to any area that experiences flooding. 

What are the enforcement measures? 

Stricter building codes for homes and businesses cannot be enforced by the provincial government. Instead, through the Disaster Recovery Program, the government could offer funding to those willing to rebuild with flood mitigation in mind. This voluntary action also applies to relocation where the government of Alberta offered the option of moving out of the floodway to families and businesses willing to do so. 

What are the effects on the surrounding environment and watershed?

Building codes do not have a large impact on the surrounding environment and watershed. Instead, stricter building codes provide flood mitigation measures to homes and businesses to prevent extensive water damage.  

Would stricter building codes help in a drought? 

Stricter building codes would not help in a drought as this measure is specifically designed to address flooding concerns and the impacts of water damage. 

[1] Simonovic, Slobodan. “Flood Mitigation Efforts in the Red River Basin.” University of Manitoba. Presentation format. 

[2] Ibid. 

[3] “Individual mitigation measures for homes.” Alberta Government. Accessed March 24, 2014.

[4] Tait, Carrie. “alberta seeks to block building in flood-prone zones.” Globe and Mail. Published September 24, 2013. Accessed December 9, 2013. 

[5] “Drumheller flood preparations paid off, mayor says.” Published September 27, 2013. Accessed December 9, 2013. 

[6] “Individual mitigation measures for homes.” Alberta Government. Accessed March 24, 2014.