When the water hits the door

Nova Scotia is getting more flooding, and not just from storm surges in the coastal area. Land flooding, caused by rivers or lakes overflowing their banks, or by torrents of rainwater colliding with houses on their way downhill, is already becoming more frequent. Nova Scotia Climate Change Risk Assessment for 2022: Facing what’s to come — identified flooding as the most likely harm to provincial well-being in the 2030s.

“With some of the big rains last summer, we saw all kinds of flooding,” says Charlynne Robertson, senior program manager at the Clean Foundation. “A lot of people were inundated and had to deal with the consequences.”

Damage can look very different depending on the house, he says (finished basements versus unfinished basements, for example), but according to the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation, the average cost to remediate basement flood damage in Canada is $43,000. What’s more, Robertson says, most home insurance policies don’t automatically cover overland flood damage, a fact that many homeowners often find out too late.

The Clean Foundation is a non-profit environmental charity that began in 1988 and offers programs across Nova Scotia, from energy efficiency assessments to school awareness and municipal climate adaptation. They now also work in PEI. The need for homeowners, and municipalities in general, to prepare for overland flooding has been a priority at Clean for some time, Robertson says. In fact, many of your energy advisors, who visit homes to recommend heat pumps and draft-proofing systems, have also recommended overland flood prevention retrofits, if only because they’ll keep that shiny new heat pump dry. heat in the basement.

Jesse Galati conducting a flood risk assessment. A flood risk assessment includes looking at features inside and outside the home to identify potential flood risks. Photo courtesy of Clean Foundation

Robertson and his colleagues decided to go a step further and embark on a modernization program specifically for the prevention of overland flooding. The Resilient Housing Retrofit Pilot Project launched in 2023, in which 20 homes in vulnerable catchments (10 from New Glasgow and 10 from the Halifax Regional Municipality (specifically Upper Hammonds Plains and Spryfield)) are receiving flood risk assessments and preventive modernizations free of charge. Assessments were completed in early February 2024 and modernizations are expected to conclude in December. This is only a pilot project, Robertson stressed, and cannot yet be expanded beyond the 20 households already participating.

“It’s been an emotional time when it comes to flooding,” Robertson says. “People across Nova Scotia want help and answers. “We’re just trying to figure out how a program like this can work and how we can learn from it, so we can explore what to do next.”

While they haven’t ruled anything out yet, retrofits will likely focus on solar pumps (installed in low-lying areas, in basements, to immediately remove floodwater), improved eaves gutters with downspouts at least two meters from the foundation of the house, and installing window sills in the basement. They could also take up landscaping: altering the slope of the surrounding lawn to divert water away from the house and installing French drains to do the same. And based on Clean’s experience with nature-based solutions, Robertson said, another suggestion could be installing “rain gardens” filled with water-hungry plants capable of absorbing excess precipitation.

“We should encourage nature to step in and help where possible,” he says.

Nova Scotia is getting more flooding, and not just from storm surges in the coastal area.

Homeowners are also receiving flood preparedness education, including the following recommendations: pack a 72-hour emergency kit; checking on neighbors after a flood; keep your gutters and storm drains clean; make sure household pipes and weeping tiles are working properly; keep electrical wiring away from the basement floor; Store valuables downstairs in plastic bags, etc.

“To me, resilience is not just about ensuring the house is better protected from flooding,” says Robertson. “It’s also about ensuring the owner is better prepared.”

And this personal preparedness message isn’t limited to participating households, Robertson says. As part of the Resilient Housing Retrofit Pilot Project, the Clean Foundation attends home showings, encouraging homeowners in vulnerable watersheds to make their own plans and investments and to be very aware of what their insurance policies do and do not cover. .

“We all know flooding is a risk,” says Robertson. “We will have more and greater rainfall in the future. It is important to plan ahead, both at the municipal and household level.”

This story is shared by the Climate Story Network, an initiative of Climate Focus, a nonprofit organization dedicated to covering stories about community climate solutions.

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