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Ottawa’s residents are fed up with flooding. The last thing this city needs is another neighbourhood knee-deep in water when the next big storm comes. So the city must make very sure of its science before it allows any development on the Carp River floodplain.
A large area near the Corel Centre, called Kanata West, was the subject of a city concept plan a couple of years ago. Councillor Peggy Feltmate says the mixed-used development under consideration could be home to 16,000 people. City planner Dennis Jacobs says construction could start in 2006.
There’s a potential problem: part of the area is susceptible to flooding from the Carp River. It’s one thing when the Carp overflows its low banks into farmers’ fields. It would be quite another if there were houses in those fields. If the city allowed developers to just plunk down houses in the floodplain, it would probably be a matter of time before the owners were mopping up.
But Mr. Jacobs says the city won’t allow developers to just plunk down houses. He says the floodplain consists of two portions: an actual floodway (“where you can’t build, ever”) and a flood fringe. The flood fringe, he says, can be developed, as long as the flow of the river is properly managed. There are ways to manage stormwater to avoid flooding, even in areas once susceptible to flooding. A managed wetland, Mr. Jacobs says, would prevent flooding and even improve the quality of the stormwater before it gets to the river.
John Price, of Mississippi Valley Conservation, agrees it’s possible to develop on the flood fringe, by raising the level of that land above the floodplain, or managing stormwater through ponds. In effect, he says, proper development would redefine which areas form the floodplain.
Environmental groups will be watching any development carefully. Friends of the Carp River are working to restore the natural shoreline of the Carp River to stop the sedimentation and erosion that are slowly choking the river. The city has completed a watershed study of the Carp River, which is at the public-review stage.
Floods happen in part because urban development has not shown sufficient respect for nature. Water must go somewhere. When the land is covered in concrete and asphalt with no contingency flood storage, the water floods sewers and basements.
So far, a lot of thought and science has gone into the city’s ideas for Kanata West. That level of thought must go into the details of development, too. Homeowners and their insurers will want the city, the province, the conservation authority and developers to examine every option and consider every consequence.
Prudence and attention to detail will determine what Kanata West will look like in the years ahead. This city could have a handsome development to admire, or it could have a big soggy mistake to fix.