PUBLISHED: 17 December 2013

Flood Mitigation: Upgrading Existing Infrastructure

What is upgrading existing infrastructure? 

Heavy rain and flood events have a damaging and sometimes detrimental impact on the infrastructure of cities, towns and rural communities. As seen during Alberta’s 2013 flood, important roads and highways were washed away, energy infrastructure was damaged, and government and municipal buildings were flooded in addition to private homes and businesses.

To mitigate these and the other damaging impacts of flooding, upgrading infrastructure is an important step forward. Options for rebuilding include; structural investments for flood mitigation, raising low-level developments and prohibiting basement construction, replacing sewage systems and improving stormwater infrastructure[1]. Upgrading and rebuilding infrastructure to handle flood waters and further protect communities and important economic and social centres is a valuable investment for the future. 

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

Upgrading existing infrastructure to handle flood waters is a form of mitigation that enhances structures and protects against future flooding. Mitigation options include; flood defenses for homes and businesses, incorporating additional heavy rocks, improving river bank infrastructure including debris flow berms, water storage and retention facilities. Overall, facilitating river flow while protecting the integrity of infrastructure can mitigate against the damaging impacts of flood water[2]

Are upgrading efforts already in place in Alberta?  

Upgrading infrastructure efforts are already occurring in Alberta as a result of the June 2013 flooding. Approximately $110 million has been put aside by the Government of Alberta for rebuilding transportation infrastructure and improving roads and bridges. Specific infrastructure has been identified as high-risk and vulnerable as a result of the 2013 Flood, therefore, upgrading efforts are occurring to address identified vulnerabilities[3]

What level of government is responsible?  

In Alberta, both the provincial and municipal levels of government were responsible for rebuilding public infrastructure after the flood. Infrastructure such as highways, bridges, schools and health facilities were rebuilt by the provincial government while municipalities worked to restore pathways, parks, important road infrastructure, transit routes and other transport and municipal infrastructure[4]

Does this policy account for differences between jurisdictions? 

Rebuilding flood damaged infrastructure depends on provincial or municipal responsibility, therefore, jurisdictions are taken into account depending on where flood damage occurred. 

What is the scale and boundary of this policy? 

Funding provided by the Government of Alberta was used within the province to rebuild after the 2013 flood in southern Alberta and the Wood Buffalo region. Municipalities within these areas were responsible for addressing specific damage and rebuilding destroyed areas. 

What are the enforcement measures?

Upgrading existing infrastructure was necessary in southern Alberta and the Wood Buffalo region to rebuild after extensive flood damage. Enforcing these rebuild efforts was not necessary, however, in the recovery phase of reconstruction ideas have emerged to upgrade current infrastructure to lessen and prevent future flood damage. Measures discussed by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction include; raising buildings with lower-floor elevations, prohibiting basement developments in building within the floodway, replacing sewer systems with independent sanitary and storm sewers, implementing municipal stormwater management strategies, and providing incentives for homeowners to install backwater valves, disconnect roof leaders and weeping tiles, as well as ensure parking lot grades direct stormwater away from buildings[5]

However, these approaches remain unenforceable. 

What are the effects on the surrounding environment and watershed?  

Upgrading existing infrastructure helps to prevent future flood damage to homes, businesses and other developments. Various measures such as improved stormwater management and enhanced structural mitigation can help flood water to move more freely resulting in less damage to infrastructure and the surrounding environment. 

Would upgrading existing infrastructure help in a drought?  

No, upgrading existing infrastructure would not help to address drought conditions. 

[1] Kovacs, Paul and Dan Sandink. “Best Practices for Reducing the Risk of Future Damage to Homes from Riverine and Urban Flooding.” Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. September 2013: Pgs. 1 and 2.

[2] “Flood Risk Management Guidelines for Location of New Facilities Funded by Alberta Infrastructure.” Alberta Infrastructure. Published November 2011. Accessed December 10, 2013. 

[3] “Alberta protects roads, bridges against future flood damage.” Interior Daily News. Published November 26, 2013. Accessed December 10, 2013. 

[4] “Rebuilding provincial infrastructure.” Alberta Government. Accessed March 24, 2014.  

[5] Kovacs, Paul and Dan Sandink. “Best Practices for Reducing the Risk of Future Damage to Homes from Riverine and Urban Flooding.” Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction. September 2013: Pgs. 1 and 2.