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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

County Council updated on flood mapping project

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Council for the County of Essex received an updated report on the Flood Hazard Mapping project at its June 19 meeting, and heard from project consultant, Peter Zuzek. 

  Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) and the County finalized this document recently, which is allowing for the reviewing and updating of outdated shoreline natural hazards mapping.

  The Essex Region’s shoreline mapping, which is used for regulating development through the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act, was last completed in 1976.

  This information has now been updated for the 200-plus kilometres of shoreline in the region.

  In April of 2023, Essex County Council awarded the contract for the Essex Region Coastal Flood Hazard Mapping consulting services to Zuzek Incorporated in the amount of $439,999.36 to conduct the flood mapping services for the County.

  ERCA and the County were successful in receiving matching grant funding in the amount of $240,000 through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Flood Hazard Identification and Mapping Program.

  The County carried $200,000, over several years, earmarked in reserve funds for the flood hazard mapping update.

  As the City agreed to participate in the project following submission of the grant application, it reduced the County’s contributing share to $160,000 with the City providing $40,000 in funding to the project, the Report on the matter to County Council notes.

   Based on funding requirements, the mapping project had to be completed by March of 2024. The final Flood Hazard Maps and report were received by the County in February of 2024.

  The Report to Council notes Flood Hazard Maps provide the baseline for ensuring new development is reasonably safe from the threat of flooding, and that threats for existing development are better understood to minimize flood-related impacts, before, during, and after a potential flood.

  Zuzek told County Council there are three regulated shoreline hazards for the Great Lakes, including flooding, erosion, and dynamic beach hazards.

  As of 2020, Planning Authorities have to prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that may increase the risk associated with natural hazards.

  Zuzek noted warming winter temperature led to less ice, which he said has been observed in the Great Lakes. In the ‘70s or ‘80s, he said it was not uncommon for there to be 70 or 80 days of ice along the Leamington shore.

  “Now, some years, there is almost no ice at all,” Zuzek told County Council. “This is having a big impact on the lakes.”

  If there is a future where there is no ice at all, Zuzek said the amount of wave energy at the Western Basin increases by 120%, and 80% on the east-side of Leamington.

  “Those are erosive waves that can cause flood risks and erode our shorelines.”

  Lake levels, he added, reached record-highs in 2019. With Climate Change, he foresees more periods of highs, and variability will continue. Highs in the future can be even greater than what was experienced in 2019.

  Mapping throughout the entire County and Windsor identified hazard lands, and had a goal to have local development landward of those areas.

  “We now have a really valuable tool to help guide our planning to make sure we locate future development away from these hazardous areas,” Zuzek said.

  Open houses were held throughout the County in late 2023 in creating the project. Zuzek said he is committed to sharing the information with individuals in the community, in addition to municipal and county staff.

  That will help ensure individuals understand living on the lake is a great opportunity, but also comes with a lot of hazards.

  That message needs to be continued, so good planning decisions can be made.

  “It is really important we utilize this hazard map for planning, for looking forward to the future. I hope we are getting the point across here that while it has always been challenging living on the lake, looking into the future with the impacts of Climate Change, it is going to be even harder. There are going to be more challenges, and we need to make sure we locate development away from these hazardous lands.”

  Zuzek added that lot-by-lot application will continue, which are typically overseen by ERCA.

  They have applied for funding for a resilience study to cover the south-shore of the County of Essex through Natural Resources Canada. They are waiting to hear word on that.

  The hazard mapping identifies where the risks are, the resilience study will help guide individuals on what to do to help solve those issues.

  Mayor of Lakeshore Tracey Bailey noted the mapping was a great tool for planning, but asked about existing development in those areas identified as hazardous.

  “At what point are we going to take this really powerful tool to the next level, where we are actually providing more awareness to the community for folks living in those homes today that [may] not be able to be reconstructed in the future, and they don’t know that.”

  She feels obligated to share that information with residents and have them understand they can be part of solutions today, like providing renovations to prolong the life of their homes.

  Homes are the greatest assets for residents, Bailey added.

  James Bryant, Director of Watershed Management Services for ERCA, responded that planning policies will try to direct development away from hazard areas. When repairs or reconstruction are proposed for existing development, he urges residents in those areas to contact ERCA for pre-consultation.

  Staff can guide them on what they can do.

  That matter is addressed in the developing New County Official Plan – a “road map” – on how land and resources in Essex County will be managed for the next 30-years, guiding and providing direction to landowners, business owners, developers/homebuilders, and the community at large on an array of matters.

  County Manager of Planning Services, Rebecca Belanger, said the County will then look to local Official Plans and By-Laws to investigate updating policies and regulations.

  Belanger will incorporate the mapping into the County’s developing New Official Plan.  

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