Flood hazard land use management

Experience has shown that land use management and flood-proofing in areas susceptible to flooding is the most practical and cost-effective way to reduce the effects of flooding on lives and property. This approach requires the cooperation of all levels of government, developers, builders, realtors and the public.

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Land use management

Well-designed structural measures can be highly effective in reducing flood damage when used appropriately; however, they can inherently reduce the risk of flood in one location while increasing it in another.

Dikes are only designed to defend against a predetermined level of flooding and they are subject to weaken or fail over time due to erosion, overtopping, seepage or seismic activity. It is not cost-effective to control the threat of all floods through the construction of dikes and other flood protection structures.

Similarly, while emergency preparedness, response and recovery are essential for public safety, these activities may not prevent economic damage or entirely reduce the risk of loss of life and trauma.

Floodplain mapping

Floodplains are areas that experience periodic flooding from nearby bodies of water. Communities located in floodplains are most susceptible to flood damage. Floodplain mapping is an important first step in developing a flood hazard management plan.

Urban planning

Local governments are responsible for understanding the risks of flooding in their areas and make appropriate land use decisions so that developments are built in a manner that limits flood damage and ensures public safety. Flood risk management is a key requirement of land use planning. The rapid expansion of urban areas provides an opportunity to develop new settlements that incorporate integrated flood management prior to construction.

Local governments should also recognize that many flood hazard management measures can have beneficial impacts on urban spaces beyond flood management and protection, such as increased park and recreational space, fire breaks, food production and enhanced biodiversity.

Land use regulation

In British Columbia, land use is regulated by local governments, provincial approving officers and provincial land officers responsible for Crown land.

Local governments have the authority to:

  • Develop flood hazard area bylaws without provincial government approval, but with consideration for their policies and guidelines
  • Grant flood hazard area land development exemptions, provided that the exemptions are consistent with provincial government guidelines, or certified by a suitably qualified professional engineer or geoscientist
  • Establish the requirements for subdivision in flood prone areas, which includes engineering reports assessing flood hazards and restrictive covenants

Provincial approving officers regulate subdivision development within regional district areas, outside of municipal boundaries. Under the Land Title Act, these officials must consider flood hazards as part of the subdivision approval process.

Provincial land officers manage crown land. These officials must consider the Flood Hazard Area Land Use Management Guidelines when selling or leasing crown land.

Management and planning guidelines

The B.C. Government has prepared the following guidance and planning documents to assist local governments, land use mangers and approving officers in developing land use management plans and making subdivision approval decisions in flood hazard areas.


The Local Government Act requires local governments to consider the Flood Hazard Area Land Use Management Guidelines for floodplains:

The Flood Hazard Area Land Use Management Guidelines amendment incorporates sea level rise into the determination of building setbacks and flood construction levels in coastal areas. The effective date for the guidelines is January 1, 2018. 

Below are some supporting documents that were used to form the basis of the sea level rise amendment:

​The report below provides an estimate of the cost to construct flood protection to meet the rise in sea level predicted by 2100. The study area covers Metro Vancouver coastal shorelines and Fraser River shorelines west of the Port Mann Bridge


The following document guides professional practice for flood assessments, identifies appropriate circumstances for risk assessments, and emphasizes the need to consider climate change and land use changes in such assessments:

A guidance document has also been prepared to assist in the selection of qualified professionals and to provide direction in the preparation of flood hazard assessment reports:


Erosion from floods and high water events in B.C. commonly cause loss of land and damage to property and infrastructure. Answers to some frequently asked questions about erosion:

Both small and large landslide events have impacted numerous communities across B.C. for over 100 years. Learn about current practices associated with the management of landslides: