MVC’s defence of how it applies the Province’s flood plain policy, and a rebuttal

On May 12, apparently in response to questions raised, John Price, Watershed Management Coordinator at the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority, sent a memo to the City “to review the policy basis for application of a floodway/flood fringe as part of the Carp River Restoration Plan and how some other Conservation Authorities have chosen to address similar situations”.

In response, Darlene Conway, water resources engineer at the City, as a private citizen wrote to Council:

June 19, 2008

Re: Mississippi Valley Conservation Memo of May 12, 2008 — Floodplain Management: Floodway/Flood Fringe Implementation

I was recently forwarded a copy of a memo from Mississippi Valley Conservation (MVC) dated May 12, 2008 to Rob MacKay regarding Floodway/Flood Fringe Implementation (copy attached). As stated therein, the memo reviews “the policy basis for application of a floodway/flood fringe proposal as part of the Carp River Restoration Plan and how some other Conservation Authorities have chosen to address similar situations”. From my reading, its apparent intent is to suggest that MVC’s approach to floodplain management is in keeping with that of other Conservation Authorities (CAs) across the province. This is contrary to my experience and I am concerned that the memo leaves the wrong impression with those unfamiliar with provincial floodplain policy. Also attached is a table providing a detailed, line by line, response to MVC’s memo.

As you may know, I am a Senior Project Engineer with the City, however, I am providing this submission as a private citizen. I am a Professional Engineer with 20 years of experience in water resources engineering in both the private and public sectors in southern and eastern Ontario. This experience includes five years with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

My intent in providing this response to the MVC memo is to underline the floodplain policy confusion that has unfolded with respect to the proposed Carp River Restoration Plan, a project that entails the creation of 28 hectares of developable land from the regulatory (100-year) floodplain in exchange for the rehabilitation of an upper reach of the river. This misapprehension of policy is not just about terminology as the MVC memo implies – it is at the root of a risk-laden project that, as currently conceived, poses increased threats to public health and safety and exposes the City to increased liability. For these reasons, I urge Committee members to require that the terms of reference for the proposed third party review of the supporting studies, to be considered at the June 24th PEC meeting, be expanded to include a thorough examination of how provincial floodplain policy was applied to this project.

Presumably, MVC has provided this memo in response to questions that have arisen regarding the application of provincial floodplain policy to this project. But the memo’s apparent suggestion that the Carp River Restoration is in keeping with the approaches of other CAs does a disservice to those CAs and the CA system in general. And the memo falls victim to what it cautions against – that “comparisons between individual Conservation Authorities policies have to be undertaken carefully.” In fact, the examples given from other CAs are very different from what is being proposed for the Carp River Restoration. Yes, it is certainly true that most CAs will consider modifications to the regulatory floodplain in certain limited instances, but this is generally characterized as “nipping and tucking”, rather than the wholesale creation of developable land from floodplain. The reason for this is simple: experience has long shown that the safest and most economical approach to floodplain management is to restrict new development within floodplains and leave them to safely convey flood waters.

I would characterize the creation of 28 hectares of developable land from floodplain in a newly developing area such as Kanata West as antithetical to the essence of provincial floodplain policy. Further, the filling is proposed within the 100 year floodplain – a much less stringent floodplain criterion than the Hurricane Hazel or Timmins events which govern in 4 of the 5 CA jurisdictions referenced in MVC’s memo. One might wonder why other local CAs with the same floodplain criterion and within City of Ottawa boundaries (RVCA, SNC) were not considered in the MVC memo. The recent OMB appeal of the Taggart subdivision in Barrhaven South/Half Moon Bay which resulted in the elimination of 7 lots from the floodplain should be compared against what has been proposed in Kanata West. How is it that the creation of 7 lots in the floodplain is not permitted by RVCA while the creation of several hundred lots in the floodplain is supported by MVC? If nothing else, this lack of consistency within the same municipal jurisdiction warrants a thorough review. I urge Committee members to expand the scope of the third party review to include an examination of how provincial floodplain policy has been applied to the Carp River Restoration Plan.

Darlene Conway, P. Eng.

cc. Rob MacKay, City of Ottawa
John Price, Mississippi Valley Conservation
[and others]

Darlene’s sentence-by-sentence rebuttal of the MVC memo is here.

For further background on Ontario’s flood plain policy, please look here.

Erwin Dreessen