Look up as you walk around the region of Niagara and you might spot “HFL 04-14-22″ daubed in red paint on a wall above your head. HFL stands for “high flood level”, and the inscriptions are 15 feet above the ground in places – a fading memory of the devastating floods in Spring 2022, after torrential and record-breaking rainfall swelled the Great Lakes causing rivers to burst their banks, swamping drainage systems and resulting in massive floods across the shoreline communities of Niagara.
At the height of the flood more than 30% of the region was underwater. The human and environmental costs of which were devasting; The flood forced thousands of families out of their homes, entire communities were evacuated, there was mass destruction of crops, vineyards, loss of livestock and the deterioration of health conditions due to the spread of waterborne diseases.
The financial costs were equally devastating. The highly-anticipated opening of the new Prudhommes Landing development along the waterfront in the town of Lincoln was canceled, costing over $1.1m in damages. Municipal resources were equally overwhelmed, costing local governments as much as $15m in infrastructure damages.
At the time, several municipalities within the region didn’t have the resources to plan for or to manage an emergency of this scale, and the responsibility fell on the provincial government to come to the aid. The province sent human and financial reinforcements in the wake of the crisis albeit limited; It was really the heroic efforts of both military and volunteers that saved the lives of those who were impacted by the floods that day. While there may not have been any physical deaths reported, the emotional toll on communities would be felt for decades to come.
In the aftermath of the crisis, neighbouring municipalities within the region of Niagara banned together to form a new coalition, the “Region of Niagara’s Coalition of Resilient Municipalities.” Their mandate is to remove perceived barriers dividing municipalities and to fight back against climate change under the banner “Stronger Together.” The coalition began exploring new preventative strategies and working closely with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Environment Canada to create new flood contingency and emergency response plans.
Some of the funding for “Stronger Together” came from the province of Ontario’s Smart City Initiative: Pave, Pipe and Pump, which is part of a national government forward-looking scheme launched in January 2023. The Government of Canada is spending $1b on flood resilient initiatives including Pave or permeable pavement projects that allow stormwater to filter through the drain and into the ground, Pipe – new urban drainage system projects designed to divert stormwater from high flood risk areas, and Pump – the building of better flood control facilities.
The Pave, Pipe and Pump Ontario Smart City initiative is just one of the ways the Government of Canada is challenging communities across the country to develop bold and ambitious ideas to plan for a sustainable future and improve the lives of their residents using data and connected technology.
Since securing funding, the Region of Niagara has become a network of smart cities and is home to one of “the greenest streets in Canada.”
All these activities have contributed significantly to building stronger climate resilience and has paved the way forward (both literally and figuratively) in the fight against climate change.