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Floods are one of nature's most destructive forces. Managing development to effectively minimize flood risk to life, property and infrastructure is a major objective of land use planning.
It is important the province, municipalities and landowners work together to anticipate and minimize flood impacts to protect people and property.
In Saskatchewan, official community plans and zoning bylaws are important tools to control development in flood prone areas. The Planning and Development Act, 2007 and The Statements of Provincial Interest Regulations (SPI) requires new official community plans and zoning bylaws to contain policies to address the management of lands subject to natural hazards, including flooding, slumping and slope instability. This includes the requirement that these planning bylaws prohibit development of new buildings and additions to buildings in the floodway of the 1:500 year flood elevation of any watercourse or water body. They also require that new development in the flood fringe of a 1:500 year flood be flood proofed to an elevation 0.5 metres above the 1:500 year flood elevation.
Zoning bylaws allow municipalities to limit development on potential hazard lands to minimize risks from flood damage and protect the environmental integrity of the flood plain. A municipality without planning bylaws may consider adopting an interim development control bylaw to manage development in flood plain areas until an official community plan and zoning bylaw can be adopted.
All planning and land use decisions must be consistent with the SPI. As a result, municipalities cannot issue development permits on land located in a floodway. Municipalities should avoid issuing development permits on land that is flood prone. In flood fringe areas, flood proofing, which may limit or prevent damage to life and property, may be permitted. The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency (SWA) can provide municipalities and landowners with flood protection information and guidance on historical flood data as it relates to land development. More information on the SWA and its mandate is available on their website.
Municipalities or landowners may also contract an engineering consultant to determine safe building elevations and building sites. Engineers can estimate the likelihood and severity of flooding considering factors such as topography, surrounding land use, elevation, and soil type including bedrock and the ground absorption rates and average normal water levels. This information allows them to map out areas that may be susceptible to flooding. This information may be required during the subdivision review or development permit process by the subdivision approving authority or the municipality.
Subdivision approval is another important tool that can help control development in flood-prone areas. The subdivision approving authority relies on information provided by WSA and landowners or their professional agent (e.g. a Saskatchewan Land Surveyor) to help ensure the proposed subdivision is not at risk of flooding. This can involve identifying flood-prone areas or verifying elevations.
As part of the subdivision process, an interest prescribing flood proofing standards may be registered on a new lot's title. This may involve floor joists and all electrical systems, furnace and water heater to be constructed above the estimated peak water level of a 1:500 year flood.
While there are a number of methods to mitigate flood risk, not every subdivision application involves land that is suitable for the development of buildings. Contact WSA or the Community Planning branch if you are considering subdividing land and you have questions about its potential suitability with respect to flooding.
Although the need for flood proofing is determined during the subdivision process, it is the responsibility of the individual land owner to be aware of any interest registered on the title of their property and to implement the standards. Prospective purchasers should check the land title at the Information Services Corporation land registry for development standards. They can also contact the municipal office to get a history of flooding in the area. Municipalities with zoning bylaws are also responsible to ensure the conditions of subdivision approval are carried forward and development permits include flood proofing standards.
Flooding is not limited to lakes, rivers or other major water bodies. Flooding commonly occurs when drainage areas are unable to handle unusually high spring run-off or heavy rainfall. Owners of large tracts of land where flooding could be an issue due to the presence of a water body or a drainage course, should locate building sites on areas of higher elevation.
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