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Home Buyers' Guide to Flood-Risk Areas

Michelle Hopkins
July 7, 2014

Flooding in Calgary, Toronto and, more recently, Manitoba has caused widespread devastation to farmers' crops, as well as extensive damage to homes and communities. When prospective homeowners in British Columbia read about possible flood threats here at home, they question whether it's smart to buy in at-risk communities, such as the Fraser Valley, Richmond and Delta.

Here's what you need to know about specific areas of the Lower Mainland and how you can mitigate problems.

Fraser Valley

The Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) has many rivers, streams and creeks that are prone to freshets and flooding, especially in the late spring and early winter. The best way to protect your home or business from flooding is to be prepared.

FVRD provides flood protection and drainage services, but it does also recommend that home buyers contact their local government before purchasing a home to ensure they understand what they are buying. Local governments can provide valuable information to home buyers about zoning bylaws, flood plains, hazards and more.

Richmond

Although Richmond is not officially designated a flood risk, it is on a floodplain. John Irving, director of engineering for Richmond, says the last time any flooding occurred in Richmond was in 1948. Since then, city has constructed a comprehensive system of dikes on Lulu Island. In addition, the drainage and pump systems are "very strong." Even in the case of extended rainfall or storm surge, the diking systems will protect residents and their homes.

"The city recently received a $2 million provincial grant to support the upgrade of three pump stations," adds Irving.

"We feel we've addressed the risks for now and the future so Richmondites can sleep well in Richmond."

Delta

Delta's location on the Fraser River floodplain also puts the community at risk of flooding. The main flood threat for Delta occurs when winter storms result in heavy rains or a heavy snow pack and are followed by a sudden spell of hot weather in late spring or early summer. The lowlands of Delta (such as Ladner) are located in a floodplain (see this floodplain map ). Delta is working hard to ensure that the risk of flooding is minimized for all residents and the risk of flooding in a given year is estimated to be 0.5 per cent.

"Delta's current dike system is constructed to the 200-year flood level, which means the risk of flooding is estimated to be 0.5 per cent in a given year," says Sarah Howie, urban environmental designer for the Corporation of Delta.

"Delta inspects, maintains and upgrades the dikes regularly to ensure they continue to function as designed."

Do insurance companies cover flood insurance?

According to a spokesperson at BCAA, most insurance policies do not cover loss or damage resulting from continuous or repeated seepage, rising ground waters or surface waters. However, water backing up from an internal drain, like a toilet, would typically be covered under most policies. Coverage for the escape of water from a private external drain differs among many policies.

It is important that you check with your insurance advisor to understand what level of coverage your policy provides. BCAA strongly encourages home owners or tenants, who have questions concerning their coverage against water damage, to consult their local home insurance adviser.

What home owners can do to protect their home

  • Have a portable emergency kit near an exit and ensure that all family members know where it is. That kit should include a three-day supply of water for people and pets, non-perishable food, plastic garbage bags, plastic or paper dishes, a portable radio with extra batteries, a flashlight with extra batteries, books, toys, a first aid kit, a change of clothing for each family member, personal toiletry items, infant supplies if needed, emergency tools, sleeping bags and blankets, and the phone number for an out-of-area contact person.

  • Have an emergency plan. The plan should include information on how to turn off the gas and electrical power in your home, establish a safe meeting place for family members, and plans for pets during an emergency.

  • Enroll a family member in a First Aid course.

  • Monitor local news and stay aware of potential flood events.

  • Keep a battery or hand-crank operated radio handy to be advised of changing conditions.

  • Assemble important documents in a fireproof/waterproof container. For more information on preparing for emergencies, visit www.getprepared.gc.ca.

Note:Last week on July 4, the Vancouver Sun ran a feature showing a flood-risk map of Vancouver, which shows that a large portion of land around False Creek has been designated as flood plain. However, a spokesperson from the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association noted that the designation is not expected to affect property values, although it will likely raise the cost of new homes because of increased construction costs.

Resources:The BC Real Estate Association has put together this Flood Protection Resources Guide. BCREA is lobbying the BC government for updated floodplain mapping.

Michelle Hopkins
Michelle Hopkins is a Vancouver-based freelance writer with extensive magazine, newspaper and online writing experience in home décor, new home developments, culinary adventures, wine, travel and more. Michelle writes for many notable publications including Real Estate Weekly and other Glacier Media Group publications, Western Living Magazine, Vancouver Magazine, Home Décor & Renovations, to name just a few. Michelle is passionate about anything to do with real estate.