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Flood Management Responsibilities:

Who Does What?

Flood is a Shared Responsibility

Federal, provincial, local and First Nations authorities have different roles and responsibilities for flood risk reduction and for emergency response during a flood event in British Columbia. Other roles and responsibilities fall to critical infrastructure entities, to businesses, to industries and to individual residents and property owners.

Here is a look at the various flood management responsibilities that apply in BC. Be aware that inter-governmental arrangements are complex and ever-changing. This summary is not comprehensive and is not a substitute for advice from regulatory agencies or from professionals.

Flood-related roles and responsibilities undertaken by the Government of Canada involve many departments, including Public Safety, Natural Resources, Infrastructure, Indigenous Services and Environment and Climate Change, as well as other organizations, such as the National Research Council.

The scope of this work includes:

  • A National Disaster Mitigation Strategy: Federal, provincial and territorial governments have worked together to develop a National Disaster Mitigation Strategy for Canada. While the Strategy does not replace existing risk management programs at all government levels, the incorporation of NDMS principles into Federal/Provincial/Territorial initiatives will benefit the management of internal government risks.The principles are:
    • Preserve Life – Protect lives through prevention
    • Safeguard Communities – Enhance economic and social viability by reducing disaster impacts
    • Fairness – Consider equity and consistency in implementation
    • Sustainable – Balance long-term economic, social and environmental considerations
    • Flexible – Be responsive to regional, local, national and international perspectives
    • Shared – Ensure shared ownership and accountability through partnership and collaboration
  • Funding for provincial, territorial, and local government and First Nations flood-related work, including these recent examples:
    • National Disaster Mitigation Program: $200 million over 5 years (2015–2020), cost-shared with provinces/territories for:
      • Risk assessments
      • Flood mapping
      • Mitigation planning
      • Non-structural and small-scale structural projects
    • First Nation Adapt Program: $24.7 million over 5 years to identify and address climate change related impacts on infrastructure in First Nation communities on reserve, including sea level rise and flooding, through the following types of projects:
      • Vulnerability assessments of climate change impacts on community infrastructure or emergency management
      • Development and assessment of adaptation options, and
      • Cost benefit analysis of adaptation options.
    • Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund: $2 billion to support the national, provincial and municipal infrastructure required to deal with climate change. This is a national, competitive, merit-based program, designed to support investments that will mitigate current and future climate risks, such as floods, wildfires and droughts by building or reinforcing constructed and natural infrastructure;
  • Federal Flood Mapping Framework, which gives guidance on flood mapping and management projects
  • National Building Code of Canada in which floodproofing provisions are expected to be recommended by the National Research Council soon
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police -During flood response the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) performs all policing duties associated with regular general duty policing (e.g., traffic control, evacuation coordination, scene containment and area security) as well as operational support requirements, which may include coordination of response and communications interoperability between the federal, provincial and local levels. The RCMP may provide a representative to the Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre (PREOC) when there are evacuations.
  • Environment Canada Water Survey (WSC) including operation of a hydrometric monitoring network to provide water resource data to provincial entities to support flood advisories. WSC works closely with the BC River Forecast Centre, responding to their priorities and requests. It monitors the hydrometric stations and maintains the stations to ensure operational effectiveness. WSC also works closely with the Meteorological Service to provide data for forecasting
  • Environment Canada Meteorological Service (MSC) – provides vital weather and environmental information and warnings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Warning Preparedness Meteorologist liaises with Emergency Measures Organizations, ensuring that important weather information regarding the safety and security of people, property and critical infrastructure is received and understood by individuals and key decision-makers in a timely and efficient manner. These meteorologists provide key information to the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre and PREOCs, First Nations and local Emergency Operations Centres, ensuring planners have critical forecasts for risk analysis and advanced planning.
  • Partnership with provinces and territories in Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, which provide funding for disaster response and recovery costs incurred by governments and individuals.
  • Direct support for emergency response, when required, through the Canadian Armed Forces. As the Canadian Armed Forces is responsible for Air Search and Rescue, this function may also be enhanced depending on the situation.
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) -Under the Agri-Food Emergency Support Function of the Federal Emergency Response Plan, AAFC would assist BC in securing safe food and water, spare parts and fuel for agricultural producers and key ingredients for processors. AAFC would work in coordination with Public Safety Canada to seek alternate means of transport if the province requests assistance for the emergency movement of livestock out of a flood zone.
  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) – Enforces the Health of Animals Regulations, which governs the humane transportation of all animals in Canada. CFIA staff engagement during livestock relocation can reduce concerns around humane livestock transport. CFIA authorizes the movement of Specified Risk Material under transport permit to a permitted livestock carcass disposal site.
  • Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) – Through coordination with Public Safety Canada, can assist the province by providing rapid water rescue, aerial reconnaissance with photo and video capability, law enforcement support to the RCMP and additional resources, such as transport, pumps and boats.
  • Support for collaboration on flood risk reduction, including participation in the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy.

Flood-related roles and responsibilities undertaken by the Government of British Columbia involve many ministries, including Public Safety and Solicitor General; Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development; Transportation and Infrastructure; Environment and Climate Change Strategy; and Agriculture.

The scope of this work includes:

  • Legislation, including the Local Government Act, Dike Maintenance Act and Emergency Program Act, to set out the respective responsibilities of provincial and local government authorities for flood risk reduction and emergency response
  • The Dike Safety Program. Provincial responsibilities and general supervision relative to the construction and maintenance of dikes lies with the offices of the Inspector of Dikes and Deputy Inspectors of Dikes. Their responsibilities include:
    • Administering the Dike Maintenance Act
    • Setting dike design and maintenance standards and other criteria: see Dike Design & Construction Guidelines
    • Promoting dike management best practices
    • Monitoring and auditing management of works by local diking authorities
    • Approving changes to dikes and new dike construction
    • Providing technical expertise for high risk diking issues
  • BC-wide strategies and plans, including:
  • Standards and guidelines for local governments and others on flood hazard area management and mapping: see FloodToolkit
  • Maps of areas in BC designated as floodplains by federal and provincial authorities: see Floodplain Maps by Region, as well as dike inventory and emergency planning maps
    (Note: Always check with your municipality or local authority for the most recent maps of flood-prone areas.)
  • Funding for flood risk reduction and emergency preparedness in communities and regions through provincial and cost-shared programs: BC Disaster Mitigation Funding Programs
  • Operation of BC River Forecast Centre, which reports on snowpack, river flows and levels, and which issues advisories and warnings
  • Operation and maintenance of the Lower Fraser Hydraulic Model, including the publishing of Fraser River water levels during freshet
  • Nooksack River International Task Force – for reviewing and recommending action to reduce trans boundary flooding
  • Education on emergency preparedness: see Prepared BC
  • Coordination of provincial emergency activities, through Emergency Management BC, including emergency planning and response. This also includes response to floods that impact more than one community
  • Disaster Financial Assistance program to help local governments, homeowners, tenants, small business owners, farm owners and charities to recover from a flood disaster
  • Preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation roles of the various provincial agencies are laid out in the Provincial Flood Emergency Plan
  • For rural and crown land, development of land use management policies and decisions on how flood hazard areas are used, whether development is permitted, and, if so, on what conditions
  • Water Sustainability Act – Regulation of the construction or maintenance of various flood protection structures or flood reduction measures that may or may not require Dike Maintenance Act approval – including debris removal, dredging, routine dike maintenance, and private riverside dikes
  • Management of Fraser River debris trap
  • Co-management of Vedder River Gravel Management Program
  • Operation and management of Okanagan Lake Regulation System and Nicola Dam
  • Support for collaboration in flood risk reduction, including participation in the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy.

When it comes to flood, local governments are on the front line. They manage flood hazards and related land use and development decisions within their boundaries, operate and maintain local flood infrastructure, and undertake local emergency preparedness and response. Regional districts play a similar role for areas outside of municipalities. In the case of an emergency that escalates beyond one community, Emergency Management BC provides coordination and support.

The scope of this work includes:

  • Primary work on flood risk reduction, including through cost-shared programs, which are often needed to advance the work. The work includes:
  • Emergency preparedness information and response during flood events: visit your municipal website.
  • Strategies and plans to address flood hazards, which can include:
    • Regional growth strategies
    • Official Community Plans
    • Climate change adaptation strategies
    • Hazard, risk and vulnerability assessments
    • Flood management plans
    • Participation in the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy
  • Land use management policies and decisions on how flood hazard areas are used, whether development is permitted, and, if so, on what conditions. Requirements may be found in:
    • Development permit areas
    • Flood bylaws
    • Zoning bylaws
    • Subdivision bylaws
    • Building bylaws.

First Nations are on the front line of flood work for their communities. This work may include flood management planning, as well as emergency response, with support from Emergency Management BC under an MOU with the Government of Canada, First Nations Leadership Council and the Government of British Columbia.

Many First Nations communities in the Lower Mainland are particularly and inequitably vulnerable to flooding as they are not behind the region’s dikes.

The scope of this work includes:

  • Development of flood plans, climate adaptation plans and Comprehensive Community Plans
  • In some First Nations, adoption of bylaws or a building code specific to the community, which may include floodproofing requirements (in other cases, the BC Building Code or National Building Code may apply)
  • Some First Nations are registered unregulated diking authorities while others are regulated diking authorities, responsible for flood infrastructure. Examples in the Lower Mainland include the Musqueam, Soowahlie, Squamish, Sts’ailes and Tsawwassen First Nations. Typically, dikes located on First Nations land are not regulated under the Dike Maintenance Act, unless the final agreement of a treaty First Nation so provides  
  • Others may have service agreements with local governments for dike operations and maintenance
  • Local emergency flood preparation and response, with support from Emergency Management BC, other orders of government and the First Nations Emergency Services Society
  • Participation and collaboration in the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy.
Many other entities have roles to play in flood risk reduction, including:

  • Non-government diking authorities – Entities other than government entities may (for historical reasons) serve as diking authorities for dikes within their control
  • Professions – Professional governing bodies may provide guidance and education to members on their specific responsibilities, some of which may relate to flood risk reduction, such as professional practice guidelines in conducting flood hazard assessments and flood mapping
  • Critical Infrastructure Agencies – Flood risk reduction is important for critical infrastructure agencies when siting and designing infrastructure (e.g., floodproofing transportation and utilities infrastructure) and for emergency preparedness and response plans, consistent with their legal obligations and in conjunction with government agencies
  • Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy – Facilitated by the Fraser Basin Council, the Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy is a collaborative initiative to support flood authorities to reduce flood risk in the region
  • Individuals and Business – Developers, builders, property owners and purchasers share in overall responsibility for flood risk reduction. Developing in flood hazard areas always comes with risk. Protective steps that can be taken include learning about flood hazards and flood maps for a given property, undertaking a flood hazard assessment, considering flood risk when making a property development decision, locating a development outside flood hazard areas when feasible, floodproofing a development, developing emergency plans, and determining what financial protections are available for flood damages. Property owners are responsible to protect their property from flood damages
  • Dam Owners – More than 1,800 active dams in B.C. are regulated under the Water Sustainability Act. Dam owners must be certain that their dams are designed, operated and maintained in a safe manner as outlined in the Canadian Dam Association’s Dam Safety Guidelines. Some dams provide flood regulation on streams
  • Other Entities – There are other entities, such as the Canadian Red Cross, that may participate in emergency response while others such as the University of Victoria’s Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium provide scientific research to inform flood planning
  • Private Insurers – Although overland flood insurance is new in BC for residential property owners, commercial protection was previously available. Residential insurance is still a burgeoning industry and not all properties are eligible for insurance, nor is all insurance affordable. Insurance companies use their own risk maps to determine availability and cost.