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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Evaluating public decision making : the Squamish flood management case Diehl, Randall Howard


The effectiveness of the flood management decision process in Squamish for producing socially optimal decisions is the subject of this thesis. Squamish is located on a coastal river floodplain which supports a variety of competing resources. Since different flood protection strategies produce different streams of costs and benefits, officials are faced with the problem of selecting a strategy which reduces flood damages while ensuring the greatest return from floodplain resources. Until the recent adoption of floodplain development regulations, officials have primarily relied on dykes for managing the flood hazard. Although the new regulations represent an improvement in flood management, no attempt was made to evaluate the effects on floodplain resources and there is a concern that should a flood exceed the level of the dykes those homes which are not floodproofed will be severely damaged. Should this occur, society will probably compensate the victims as well as to provide additional assistance for increasing the current level of flood protection. This study examines these issues by reviewing the laws and policies governing flood management and by documenting the events and interactions of officials involved in making flood management decisions in Squamish. Since the thesis examines the public decision making process, the evaluative criteria are derived from the social values inherent in our liberal democratic system. The criteria are as follows: - the decision process should involve all affected interests; - decisions should be based on adequate information; - the decision process should be efficient. Recommendations are made, based on a review of the literature on flood management and behavioural theory for resolving existing flood protection problems and for remedying the deficiencies identified from the foregoing analysis. The following summarizes the findings and recommendations: 1. The current flood protection plan has the following weaknesses: - Primary reliance is placed on a dyking system which is both incomplete and incapable of withstanding a catastrophic flood event. - The floodplain regulations provide only minimal protection from catastrophic .floods as they do not apply to existing and new homes in established neighbourhoods. - Neither the dyking system nor the floodproofing regulations have been properly evaluated to determine their optimum level of protection. - A range of other strategies which could potentially reduce future flood damages have been overlooked. - There is still some uncertainty regarding the potential of the Cheekye River flood hazard. To resolve these problems an inter-agency task force should be established to review the situation and recommend appropriate solutions. In particular, officials should consider the necessity of redesigning the dyking system and floodplain regulations in combination with a range of other strategies such as relocation, flood loss insurance, flood forecasting and river maintenance, to determine the optimum level of protection. Officials should also consider the necessity of re-evaluating the Cheekye River hazard. To ensure that task force plans are implemented, three recommendations are made. First, to ensure that adequate resources are available, all three levels of government should negotiate a cost-sharing arrangement. Second, the federal government should adopt a policy which stipulates that all federal programs, projects and financial assistance are subject to specific guidelines for flood management as determined by the Department of Environment and which reflect the direction of the foregoing recommendations. And third, the following recommendations for improving the current decision making process should be adopted. 2. The decision process.has the following weaknesses: - Those affected by flood management policies were not well represented during the decision process as there was no overall framework to coordinate and integrate all the concerned interests. - Information used to select flood management strategies was deficient because no guidelines had ever been established to ensure that adequate information is generated to determine the best course of action. - The decision process was inefficient due to unnecessary delays caused by inter-agency conflicts and because better decisions could have been reached had officials been more informed. To resolve these deficiencies the Ministry of Environment should consider the following recommendations: - To ensure adequate representation a decision process should be designed which ensures that all the interests including the public are provided with an opportunity to be informed of and to express their views on flood protection prior to decisions being made. To improve the adequacy: of information, rules should be established for ensuring that all flood protection strategies are properly evaluated. To make the decision process more efficient the recommendations for improving the interactions of officials and for improving the information base should be implemented.

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