Meteorological Service of Canada: appearance before the Standing Committee (November 4, 2020)
Floods and droughts
Q. What are some of the Government of Canada’s investments related to floods and droughts in Canada?
In 2018, the Government invested $89.7 million over five years to modernize Canada’s water monitoring services. Through these investments, the Government is helping Canadians continue to get the most timely and accurate information possible on flow and water levels across Canada’s rivers and lakes. These investments contribute to strengthening resilience and support emergency preparedness including providing water data and information to federal, provincial, and territorial agencies to allow more lead time to take action and mitigate the impacts of extreme water-related disasters.
In 2019, the Government of Canada invested $162 million over five years, with $9.2 million per year ongoing, to improve emergency management in Canada, including in Indigenous communities. This investment included $4.9 million over five years for ECCC to improve Canada’s ability to predict coastal floods and to develop early warning systems. It also included $1.5 million over five years for a joint initiative with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to assemble hydrologic and hydraulic best practices for floodplain mapping.
ECCC’s mandate letter directed the department to work with NRCan and the provinces and territories to complete all flood maps in Canada providing Canadians with the information they need to protect themselves from flood risk.
Q. How does ECCC help manage flooding in Canada?
ECCC’s National Hydrological Service, which is part of the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC), measures water levels and flows in rivers and lakes across Canada to support flood forecasting carried out by provincial, territorial and conservation authorities.
In addition, ECCC is developing flow forecasting capabilities across Canada and is currently providing prediction support for the Great Lakes.
The Meteorological Service of Canada also provides timely weather forecasts (precipitation amounts, temperatures and other factors that affect water levels) in support of flood forecasting agencies.
Q. How much of the flooding is the result of climate change?
Worldwide changes in extreme precipitation events that can lead to flooding are consistent with what climate scientists anticipate about global warming.
Climate change affects the frequency, duration and intensity of many climate-related hazards and disasters such as floods, but also wildfires, droughts and extreme weather events.
Science links climate change to an increased risk of floods, heavy rains and more powerful hurricanes, and Canadians are starting to experience these extremes.
It is not yet possible to connect individual weather events to climate change. That said, it is clear that there are an increasing number of extreme weather incidents including droughts and floods.
The Government of Canada launched the Canadian Centre for Climate Services (CCCS) so that Canadians have the information and support they need to understand and plan for climate impacts. Through the CCCS, Canadians can learn how the climate is changing where they live and work in a way that is easy to understand and apply.
Q: How does the Government of Canada plan to address the risk of flooding to residents and communities around Lake Ontario?
The water level of Lake Ontario is managed by the International Joint Commission (IJC), an independent body established by a bilateral treaty. The Government of Canada trusts the IJC.
To regulate water levels, the IJC developed “Plan 2014” based on more than 15 years of scientific studies, negotiations and consultations with stakeholders in the Lake Ontario basin. The Plan is expected to provide long-term environmental benefits to the lake ecosystem, while taking climate change into account.
To reduce the risk of flooding in the spring of 2020, the IJC has released water at the maximum possible rate to balance impacts to upstream and downstream interests, including shoreline communities and residents, shipping and hydropower.
The IJC has confirmed it will continue to release water at the maximum possible rate throughout the spring and early summer.
ECCC has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the IJC to provide technical and engineering support to IJC’s water boards, including the Great Lake Water Boards. ECCC staff participate on water boards, provide expertise for targeted studies and produce flow forecasts for the St. Lawrence- Lake Ontario system. ECCC also provides data on water level and flow rates for rivers and the Great Lakes to the IJC as well as to provincial agencies to support them in flood forecasting.
Q. Why is your department planning to terminate Weatheradio service when it is so important for the safety of mariners and outdoor enthusiasts?
Weatheradio is recognized as an important component of the suite of dissemination channels used by my Department to provide weather information and alerts for the safety of Canadians.
As Canadians increasingly turn to digital technologies such as mobile applications to meet their information needs, traditional services like Weatheradio – which broadcasts on VHF radio frequencies – continue to play a role in rural and coastal areas.
My Department is currently consulting with Canadians in several parts of the country to understand and address the concerns that have been raised with respect to Weatheradio service. They want to find out the extent to which the service remains relevant in these areas where many service options exist.
If it is confirmed that the service no longer has a substantial audience in some regions, some transmitters could be decommissioned. Savings from network reductions would be redirected to improving digital web services and mobile applications.
No final decisions has been made regarding the decommissioning of any Weatheradio transmitters.
Supplementary responses and data
There are approximately 230 low-power VHF Weatheradio transmitters across Canada from the top of the CN Tower in Toronto to Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, Saint Anthony in the Great Northern Peninsula NL, and Pond Inlet and Pangnirtung on Ellesmere Island Nunavut.
The annual operating costs for Weatheradio is approximately $3.5M – considerably more than the costs to operate all other ECCC weather dissemination channels including the extremely popular Weather.gc.ca web site.