I was startled to return after a weekend away this spring to a few feet of water creating a moat between our dock and lawn.
Being new, I did the sensible thing and called the neighbours to see if Pinantan Lake traditionally rose so quickly and just how high it would go.
They assured it was seasonal and nothing to worry about. I’ve since learned the lake also creeps up during heavy rains like those of recent weeks.
As our house is on higher ground away from the water, we have no realistic worries of flooding, but it got me thinking what a mess it could have made.
Along with other areas of B.C., people in our region — along the Thompson, Kamloops Lake, in the Shuswap and Sicamous — are living with flood problems these days.
Some have packed precious items to take on short notice, they’re moving furniture out of basements, constructing walls of sandbags and putting sump pumps into play to stave off the rising water. Others resorted to more drastic measures — canoeing in groceries or full-out evacuations.
Astonishingly, the only recourse for victims of such flooding is to apply for financial assistance from the Provincial Emergency Program, which only covers 80 per cent of “eligible damage” up to amounts of $300,000.
While insurance policies exist to cover flooding from a sewer or septic backing up, if the water pouring into your house comes from overland flooding, you’re out of luck.
Confusingly, natural disasters such as forest fires and windstorms can be covered by homeowner insurance, ICBC looks after vehicles caught in floods and groundwater flood insurance can be purchased for commercial buildings.
But there’s nothing that offers Canadians home flood protection.
This lack of coverage surprises many when disaster strikes; a 2004 survey of 2,100 people by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) found 70 per cent of homeowners thought they were covered for such flooding.
Why isn’t it available for homeowners in Canada like it is in the UK, U.S., France and Germany?
Overland flooding, according to Lindsay Olson of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, is a risk “for only a small percentage of the population — that is, those who live in a flood plain.”
“Since most homeowners are not exposed to this risk, and should not share in the cost, providing flood insurance would be unaffordable for the homeowners who might need it.”
The ICLR, a non-profit “committed to reducing disaster deaths, injuries and property damage through the development of disaster prevention knowledge,” found otherwise, as would people who were victims of floods not living in a flood zone.
In a 2010 analysis, the ICLR found such flood coverage could be made available in Canada by bundling it into home insurance policies with other perils like fire and theft, thus making it affordable to many.
It does point out that homes in high-risk flood areas might be uninsurable, but this exclusion could work to discourage people from building in problematic areas.
No one expects to be the victim of a natural disaster but it does happen; as the report notes, floods are “the most frequently occurring natural hazard in Canada.”
So why is the insurance industry not looking at finding a way to offer this peace of mind to those who want it?