In Beauce, the specter of floods weighs little in the balance

The environment, the main issue of the elections? This is what science is asking for and what more and more citizens are hoping for, particularly in a context where the effects of climate change are increasing in Quebec. The environment division of To have to therefore goes to meet the population to measure how much their vote will be influenced by ecological issues. Today: Beauce.

“What’s coming is going to be even worse than the flood. In his nearly century-old sawmill in Vallée-Jonction, Beauce, cabinetmaker François Cliche fears the heartbreak that awaits him. Floods, he has seen others. What he fears is rather the imminent demolition of the workshop founded by his great-grandfather.

Over the decades, the Moulin Cliche has experienced dozens of floods. The nearby Chaudière River overflows its bed in the spring when heavy rains combine with the ice forming ice jams. « From generation to generation, we are specialists in the debacle, » said Mr. Cliche proudly in the middle of a pile of sawdust.

However, the rate of major floods is accelerating. In 2014, the damage was so extensive that Mr. Cliche decided to raise the foundations of one of his company’s buildings by 1.5 meters. A sword in the water: in 2019, a monster flood, which “no Beauceron could imagine”, hit the mill again, even its recently raised part.

The damage this time was irreversible. The warehouses and part of the sawmill are lost. As the damage amounted to more than 50% of the value of the mill, no renovation permit was granted. Too much at risk of suffering the wrath of the Chaudière again, the Moulin Cliche will have to move out of the floodplain.

Stories of uprooting like this, Beauce has known hundreds since 2019, and it’s not over. About 650 buildings have been demolished to put an end to the springtime devastation they suffered, as flooding intensifies due to climate change and the incessant artificialization of the territory.

The Beaucerons, however, are not particularly concerned about environmental issues in the context of the current election campaign, noted The duty during its passage. « It’s been three years [depuis la dernière inondation majeure]people have moved on,” says Mr. Cliche, who is also involved in the Société du patrimoine des Beaucerons.

A moving city center

In Sainte-Marie, 10 kilometers downstream on the Chaudière River, the downtown hides its disfigurement under a very green lawn. Along some streets, you can see telephone poles, fire hydrants and driveways, but no houses. There remains the Vachon bakery, which has surrounded itself with a high metal wall in view of the next floods.

Jean-Marc Fortier is one of some 400 homeowners affected in 2019 who accepted financial compensation from the government to have their residence demolished. He too had already “raised” the foundations of his house on rue Notre-Dame, where he had lived for 38 years, but that was not enough.

“At first, I was hesitant to accept government compensation. But it didn’t make sense: my house was all rotten, ”explains the man who finally says he is ” very satisfied ” with the support of the public authorities. He lives today in a very dry accommodation in the heights of the valley.

Even if he was hit hard by the natural disaster, Mr. Fortier does not say he is “not really” concerned about environmental, climate and land management issues in the context of the current Quebec election campaign. Like many Marivera residents, he nevertheless believes that one day it will be necessary to « dig the river » to reduce the extent of the ice jams.

Not all of the victims have made the choice to abandon their homes. Here and there, a few residences still stand, inhabited by those whom the mayor, Gaétan Vachon, calls “irreducible Gauls”. « It’s a choice », he repeats constantly to show that he respects the decision of these citizens.

The small town of 14,000 inhabitants is completely moving its downtown core, one of the most at risk in the Chaudière Valley. In addition to the $80 million in compensation paid to property owners who opted for demolition, the government granted $2.5 million to the municipality to build a new library outside the flood zone.

Mayor Vachon is also in the process of “finalizing”, with his local MP from the Coalition avenir Québec, the financing of the move of the town hall and the fire station. « What the Government of Quebec has done for us, I call that a blessing, » says Mr. Vachon bluntly.

Regardless of the affection of the mayor of Sainte-Marie, the caquiste Luc Provençal will have to struggle to keep his position. After winning hands down in 2018, he is now warmed up by Olivier Dumais, the candidate of the Conservative Party of Quebec, led by Éric Duhaime.

Skepticism and science

Among the citizens met by The duty, we feel a lot of disillusionment with the political class. “I will surely vote for Duhaime this time, but will it really be better? asks a worker busy demolishing a house. « Society doesn’t work, » adds an old lady who goes to a thrift store.

« The floods have nothing to do with climate change, it happened when I was young, » argues Laurence Plourde, crossed in front of the Caisse populaire. This lady with white hair, a colorful scarf around her neck, fears that governments, including that of Quebec, will use the climate issue to « take away rights and freedoms » from citizens.

« Soon, we won’t be able to use our car as we want, » she fears. […] For a mother who will drive her child to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon, it’s a big inconvenience to have to travel by train. On October 3, Plourde will go “cancel his vote”.

Although it is true that the Chaudière River has been overflowing its bed in the spring for ages, climatologists predict, thanks to their models, that climate change will cause an increase in peak flow of about 40% during spring floods in the height of Sainte-Marie. The spring floods will also occur earlier in April.

However, it is not only by emitting greenhouse gases that humanity is aggravating the Chaudière floods. Land use planning is also taken into account, underlines a report by the Ouranos research centre. The linearization of agricultural streams, logging, urbanization and road development all contribute to the faster flow of rainwater to the river.

“I don’t think the candidates think about that at all. It’s a phantom subject, it’s over, it’s backwards, it won’t happen again, ”said, with a touch of sarcasm, Paul-André Bernard, the president of the Société du patrimoine des Beaucerons. He would have preferred the government to help his region adapt to the vagaries of the river rather than subsidize the demolition of certain jewels of built heritage.

In Gatineau, we want to prevent rather than cure

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