A resident interviewed for the story said that floodplain development restrictions have grown over time, restricting development activities on private property.
The mayor of Oakville explained the change in floodplains in the story: "He said that flood plains are continuously adjusted according to developing science and that the mapping in a century-old neighborhood like South Oakville would naturally require some changes over the years."
It is true that changes in analysis methods can affect floodplain extents. Most likely the first high-level hydraulic models, using the USACE's HEC-2 program, were coded on punch cards in a consultant's office, and models were compiled and simulated on mainframe computers off-site (I know, I saw the old punch cards in our office storage in the early 1990's). Personal computers came into offices in the 1980's to run the same simulations.
So floodplains have been estimated for many decades but not when centuries-old neighbourhoods in South Oakville were developed.
Documentation from the US Army Corps of Engineers speaks to the computer requirements identified in the 1982 HEC-2 manual (image at right lists mainframe computers used on the top and emerging microcomputer PC's at the bottom). The image below it represents bridge hydraulic model parameters in the USACE's Hydrologic Engineering Centre's HEC-2 hydraulic model - that input would be used to prepare punch cards in the early 1980's. So forty years ago modelling was pretty basic right? And there was no such modelling 100 years ago.
Hydrology models that determine flow rates in rivers have undergone similar upgrades over the decades just like HEC-2 hydraulic models.
So again, floodplains were not mapped 100-years ago in the 1920's in South Oakville. Floodplain limits have not been changing on their own since then, unless the upstream land uses changed resulting in more flow or unless storms are bigger now. According to Wikipedia, Conservation Halton, who has the role of mapping floodplains and regulating hazards (i.e., under O. Reg. 162/06: HALTON REGION CONSERVATION AUTHORITY: REGULATION OF DEVELOPMENT, INTERFERENCE WITH WETLANDS AND ALTERATIONS TO SHORELINES AND WATERCOURSES under Conservation Authorities Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.27), has been around (in one form or another) only since the 1950's according to their web site:
"Conservation Halton was formed in 1956 as the Sixteen Mile Conservation Authority followed by the formation of the Twelve Mile Conservation Authority in 1957. In 1963 these conservation authorities amalgamated to form the Halton Region Conservation Authority which later became known as Conservation Halton."
So floodplain mapping in South Oakville has likely not been in place for more than 40 to 50 years. The 2014 report National Floodplain Mapping Assessment - Final Report prepared for Public Safety Canada charts the ago of floodplain mapping in Canada showing mapping started in the mid 1970's - see excerpt below:
The CBC article discusses the causes of increased floodplain extents. The key factor noted in the class action lawsuit is urbanization that can increase runoff volumes and runoff rates, thus increasing river flow rates and river flood levels. High flood levels result in wider, more extensive floodplains.
Two reports by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (TOO SMALL TO FAIL: Protecting Canadian Communities from Floods (2018), and Preventing Disaster Before It Strikes: Developing a Canadian Standard for New Flood-Resilient Residential Communities (2017)) lists other stormwater management and flood-related lawsuits in Canada. So lawsuits related to flooding are not new.
So has there been development in Oakville and upstream of Oakville that could have increased flood risks? First there has been development as shown in the following images. The 1960 development limit is based on Statistics Canada dwelling age of construction in census dissemination areas (very approximate), the 1971, 1991, 2001, and 2011 development limits are from Statistics Canada as well. The 2015 limits are according to Version 3 SOLRIS land use mapping from the Province of Ontario.
Its pretty clear that there has been development. The urban area in Oakville in 1971 was about 3500 hectares. In 2001 it was 8800 hectares. In 2011 it was 9200 hectares. So that is a significant increase.
Secondly, has the development caused floodplain impacts? Conservation Halton describes several flood mitigation measures that have been put in place decades ago to mitigate some earlier, long-standing flood risks. These measures include (according to their web site):
"Conservation Halton’s dams, along with many of the major dams within other conservation authorities across the GTA were built in direct response to the devastation associated with Hurricane Hazel (October 1954). Most of these facilities were constructed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, however none have been built since then as a more passive approach to hazard management, including land acquisition and regulation, were adopted instead of costly engineered structures."
- Scotch Block Reservoir
- Hilton Falls
The Hamilton Airport observed trends are also lower for short durations (see chart below). Trends for long durations are flat since the early 1970's.
|Southern Ontario IDF Rainfall Intensity Trend Chart by Duration - Environment and Climate Change Canada's Engineering Climate Datasets, Pre-Version 1.00 (up to 1990) to Version 3.10 (up to 2017)
Development has increased significantly since the 1960's, and has doubled since mitigation works were constructed in the early 1970's to 2001 after which stormwater management measures have become more robust. So development seems to be an important factor.
Rainfall extremes have not changed since the 1950's and 1960's at surrounding climate stations, or in southern Ontario in general. So rain does not appear to be a factor resulting in higher and wider floodplains - while Milli Vanilli can Blame it on the Rain (see below), CBC could do some fundamental fact checking on the topics in the story.
***Here is a higher resolution video showing the land use progression in Oakville (you can enlarge it once it starts to play):