Flooding has devastated countless Quebec homes in recent years, and experts say the problem is only going to get worse.

A new research team is hoping to better help communities prepare for rising waters.

Made up of 16 universities and 120 researchers, the Quebec Intersectoral Flood Research Network pairs scientists with non-governmental organizations and others dealing with floods.

“Flooding is a major problem,” said Suzanne King, a professor of psychiatry at McGill University and one of the team’s lead investigators.

“Eighty per cent of municipalities in the province of Quebec are affected by floods at one time or another, and we have a real problem communicating the risk to individuals.”

Flood maps need updating

Experts say part of the problem is that most of Quebec's publically available flood maps haven't been updated in 25 years.

“About 50 per cent of Quebecers who actually live in flood zones are not aware that they live in a flood zone and also are not aware of the fact that flooding is going to be increasing with climate change,” said King.

UQAM hydroclimatology professor Philippe Gachon said the map needs to be regularly updated to account for climate change, among other factors.

“We need to improve this, we need to be better and also informed about the ongoing climate change,” he said.

As the climate warms, he said, flood lines need to be redrawn – ideally, he said, every two to five years.

The maps should also be publicly available, said Gachon, who believes municipalities could do more to keep the public informed about the consequences of climate change.

“(They need) to transfer on a regular basis the information about climate risk flood risk in following years and decades,” he said.

Similar flood networks exist in Europe.

Goal is to create public tools

King hopes bringing experts together will fill gaps in knowledge and they will create public tools, including a website.

“Hopefully eventually one would be able to enter one’s own address and see what my risk of flooding is and then go directly to tools as to how to best prepare,” she said.

While floods can damage buildings and have economic repercussions, King said there's also an emotional impact – especially on pregnant women and their unborn children. King’s area of research specializes in the effect of natural disasters on pregnant mothers and unborn children.

“Just from the psychological stress, we can see effects for generations,” she said.