Sackville Floodplains

Sackville and Little Sackville Rivers Floodplains

On August 14, 2018, the municipality published the findings of the Sackville Rivers Floodplains Study (2017). The study involved an assessment of the Sackville River and the Little Sackville River, and their watersheds, to produce updated floodplain maps. Areas at risk of flooding were evaluated using updated information and computer modelling that forecasts the impact of heavy rain on the rivers.

The new floodplain mapping shows a larger flood impact for the 1-in-20 and 1-in-100-year weather events including future considerations for climate change when compared with older (1980s) flood risk mapping.  The 1-in-20 flood event refers to floods that have a five per cent chance of occurring in any given year, while the 1-in-100 flood event refers to floods that have one per cent chance of occurring in any given year.  These events may occur in any given year and may occur from one year to the next.

Multiple public open houses were held to review the results of the report with residents and impacted property owners in September 2018. The results are available to view in the 2018 What We Heard Summary Report.

The municipality is reviewing and updating planning documents to regulate the type of new development that may be allowed to take place in the identified floodplain areas. 

Residents will have the opportunity to review and provide feedback on draft policies and regulations through multiple in-person public engagement opportunities, anticipated to take place in 2024, before the proposed changes are presented to Regional Council for approval.

Determining if you live in a floodplain

View the interactive map to see if your property falls within the Sackville Rivers floodplains. The map shows two floodplains, 1-in-20-year floodplain and 1-in-100-year floodplain, based on the 2017 study and includes future considerations for climate change when compared with older (1980s) flood risk mapping.  

The 1-in-20 flood event refers to floods that have a five per cent chance of occurring in any given year, while the 1-in-100 flood event refers to floods that have one per cent chance of occurring in any given year. These events may occur in any given year and may occur from one year to the next. 

Almost 900 properties (compared to 500 previously) have now been identified as being within the proposed 1-in-20-year floodplain for the Sackville and Little Sackville Rivers. 

Please note that each type of floodplain is defined in the common questions section below.

Sackville Rivers Mitigation Planning Study 2020

In addition to the 2017 study, the municipality undertook a study under the National Disaster Mitigation Plan program for Sackville and nine other flood risk locations within the municipality, to develop plans for mitigation of flood-related events.  

The study undertaken by DesignPoint Engineering and Surveying analyzed the 2017 model and produced recommendations for action to mitigate impacts related to flooding within the Sackville Rivers floodplain. In total, 17 actions are recommended for implementation in the Sackville Rivers Mitigation Planning Study (2020).

The municipality is currently working on the first recommendation – to restrict development within the floodplain. 

The recommendations for action under the National Disaster Mitigation Plan were presented in a staff report to Regional Council on May 3, 2022.  

A summary of the recommendations under the Sackville Rivers Mitigation Planning Study (2020) can be viewed on pages 4 and 5.  Implementation of these recommendations will require collaboration with provincial and federal governments, as well as other municipal governments in the future.

Municipal Planning Documents Amendments

Regional Council initiated a process to amend the floodplain zoning and policies under the Municipal Planning Strategies and Land Use By-laws for Bedford, Sackville, Sackville Drive, and Beaver Bank/Hammonds Plains/Upper Sackville (municipal planning documents).

In response to the updated floodplain mapping, municipal staff are reviewing policies and regulations in the following planning documents: 

•    Bedford Community Plan Area
•    Sackville Community Plan Area 
•    Sackville Drive Area Plan
•    Beaver Bank/ Hammonds Plains/ Upper Sackville Plan Area

These planning documents outline how and where various land uses are permitted. The information about floodplains has recently been updated using new information, technology and modelling tools. 

Planning Process Steps

A quick overview of the steps in the process for an amendment to the policies and regulations are as follows:  

Step 1 – Regional Council initiates Sackville Rivers Floodplain Amendment process
Step 2 – Public open houses to review findings of the 2017 study 
Step 3 – Draft proposed policies and regulations (We are here)
Step 4 – Public open houses and meetings – draft policies and regulations
Step 5 – Draft regulation and policy revisions posted online 
Step 6 – Staff report with proposed regulations and policies to Regional Council
Step 7 – Council gives First Reading 
Step 8 – Public Hearing
Step 9 – Planning Documents sent to Minister of Municipal Affairs for review

Draft Regulations and Policies

Planning & Development is preparing draft regulations and policies to carry out the development controls as recommended in the 2017 and 2020 studies. 

Staff are preparing to host a series of public sessions in 2024 to review the draft regulations and policies with property owners, residents, and stakeholders. Property owners, residents, and stakeholders in the impacted areas will receive letters inviting them to the sessions. 

All property owners, residents, stakeholders and any other interested member of the public will be welcome to attend those sessions.  

A notice of the public events will be posted on this website as soon as they have been scheduled.  Please keep up to date with this process by monitoring this website. 

Common questions

What is a floodplain?

A floodplain is an area of land adjacent to a watercourse which experiences flooding during high flow periods because of, for example, high rainfall or snow melt runoff events. When left in a natural state, floodplain systems store and dampen floods. Natural floodplains can add to our quality of life by providing open space, habitat for wildlife, fertile land for agriculture, and opportunities for walking, fishing, hiking and biking. However, if floodplains are not left in a natural state, river flooding can be amplified as a result of increased ice jams, flow restrictions or faster floodplain flow.

What is a floodplain map?

A floodplain map is a document used to identify areas that are at risk of flooding under certain conditions. Floodplain mapping is an important component of land use planning and can help increase public awareness of flood risks.

What are 1-in-20 and 1-in-100-year return period flood events?

These terms refer to the statistical probability of a flood event occurring in any given year.  

The 1-in-20-year return period flood event, referred to as "floodway," is where the most frequent flooding occurs and where the flow of water is the fastest. This floodplain has a five percent chance of flooding in any given year. 

The 1-in-100-year return period flood event, referred to as a "floodway fringe," has a one percent chance of flooding in any given year. The floodway fringe is the area between the floodway and the outer limit of the floodway fringe.

It is important to note that this likelihood does not change from year to year, no matter how recently this area may have flooded. There is a chance that flooding can occur in the following year. 

Changing weather patterns, projected climate change impacts, erosion, and new development affect the flood risk areas and the extent of the floods, including the depth of the water and the duration of the flooding.

Why were the floodplain maps for the Sackville Rivers updated? 

Cities across Canada are experiencing an increase in extreme weather events, often with heavy rainfall over a short period of time. Extreme events can lead to river flooding as the ground cannot absorb all the rainfall in time. 

The municipality has a responsibility to regulate development in areas prone to frequent flooding to ensure the protection of people and infrastructure. The regulated floodlines of the Sackville River and Little Sackville River were developed in the 1980s and have become outdated over time due to changes in land use and precipitation patterns. Due to these changes and anticipated future changes due to climate change, the municipality engaged consultants to conduct a study using current science and technology to update the floodplain maps of this area and reflect those changes. 

The 2017 Sackville Rivers Floodplains Study report confirms that the 1-in-20-year and 1-in-100-year return period floodplain mapping prepared under the 1980s joint Canada-NS Flood Damage Reduction Program is out of date and needs to be amended. The findings of the 2017 study were presented to Regional Council on August 14, 2018.

How are floodplains determined?

The Sackville Rivers Floodplains Study (2017) used technologies, computer modeling and updated data which did not exist for the previous hydrotechnical studies. The flood risk areas were evaluated using the following information:

•    information collected from Phase 1 of the study (2015)
•    existing and planned development
•    historical and recent storm events including rainfall and seasonal weather characteristics
•    topography, water level, and flow measurements
•    ice jam analysis
•    current research on climate change impact scenarios 

Why are the proposed floodlines different from the previous (1980) lines?

The new floodplain mapping shows a larger flood impact for the 1-in-20 and 1-in-100-year flooding events because these new maps include present day development conditions and incorporates climate change up to the year 2100. It is projected that the Halifax region will experience more frequent, more intense precipitation events that will result in increased flood depths and flood extents within the Sackville Rivers watershed. 

How is climate change expected to affect the Halifax region?

In 2018, the world’s leading scientific body on climate change, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that indicated that the risks of climate change can be substantially reduced by limiting warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. If the world continues to emit its current level of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the limit of 1.5 °C of warming will be breached in just ten years.

Projections indicate that the Halifax region will experience higher temperatures, more heat waves, more rain and snow and an increasing number of more severe storms, flooding events and wildfires. Extreme weather drives other climate hazards such as sea level rise, decreased snowpack and unpredictable runoff.

To learn more about how the changing climate is expected to impact our municipality and what we are doing in response, visit or read HalifACT: our long-term climate action plan.

Was the July 21, 2023 rain storm a 1-in-20 or 1-100 event?

The return period (the statistical frequency at which a flood event is likely to occur, i.e. "1-in-100 year”) associated with flooding related to the July 21, 2023 event has not yet been officially determined. Significant management and analysis of multiple data sources from several agencies (such as Environment and Climate Change Canada) is required to determine the return period of any given flood event. Based upon on-the-ground observations made by the municipality during and immediately following the event, the flood extents were found to be consistent with the 1-in-100 year mapping (including climate change projections) proposed in the 2017 report.

Why is my property showing as being in the 1-in-20 and the 1-in-100 on the interactive floodplain map, but it did not flood in the July 21, 2023 flood event?

The interactive floodplain maps consider not only historical information, but also future climate projections related to climate change. In the future, the municipality is expected to experience more frequent and more intense rain events which is expected to lead to flooding beyond what we have seen in the past. This means that even though you may not have been affected by flooding in the past, you may be at risk in a changing climate. Because the expected life of houses is often more than 100 years, the interactive maps include climate projections to the year 2100. 

To learn more about how the changing climate is expected to impact our municipality and what we are doing in response, visit or read HalifACT: our long-term climate action plan.

Is development permitted within 1-in-20-year floodplain?

Within the existing 1-in-20-year floodplain zones (FW-Floodway zone in Bedford, P-3- Floodplain zone in Sackville, FP- Floodplain zone in Beaver Bank/ Hammonds Plain/ Upper Sackville) development is limited to resource, agriculture, forestry, fishing and fishing related, water control and utility structures, open space, recreation and conservation related uses. Development is limited in these existing floodplain zones as new structures or changes to grades can impact the flow of water and increase flooding impacts. The municipality is currently reviewing these existing land use controls and whether any changes should be made following the updated floodplains.   

Existing businesses and homes that are not permitted in the existing floodplain zones are consider non-conforming uses and are subject to the protections and restrictions set out in the Halifax Regional Municipal Charter. Such uses are permitted to continue to exist and may be repaired and maintained provided the structure is not enlarged.  Where there are non-conforming uses in a structure, the structure may not be rebuilt or repaired if destroyed or damaged by fire or otherwise to the extent of more than seventy-five percent of the market value of the building above its foundation.  In addition, non-conforming uses may not be recommenced if discontinued for a continuous period of six months. 

Does my property insurance include floods? 

Provincial and municipal levels of government do not regulate insurance costs or coverage. Please check with your individual insurance provider for information on coverage options.  It is suggested that you ask your insurance provider about what insurance you are eligible to receive to cover you from a heavy rainfall and extreme storms, and other damage if your property is within a floodplain. 

How does living in a floodplain affect my property value?

Overall, there is no clear indication that loss of property value will result from the disclosure of a floodplain map. You may wish to contact the Property Value Services Corporation for information on the valuation of property within a floodplain.

Will the floodplain mapping be updated as new information becomes available?

Yes, the municipality is continually monitoring the Sackville and Little Sackville rivers and climate research to inform our work. The representativeness of the 2017 Sackville Rivers Floodplain maps will be reviewed by municipal planning and engineering staff at regular intervals as new information and technologies become available and usable, and mapping will be updated as deemed necessary. 

How can I prepare for a potential flood?

There are several websites, including FloodSmart Canada, and online documents such as Floods: How to Prepare and Floods: Knowing the risks. Suggestions range from not storing valuables in the basement, watertight doors and windows, elevating utilities, basement infill and installation of flood openings, wet flood proofing to sandbag dykes or temporary walls.

How long will it take for the new floodplain zones to be established?

As of summer 2023, Planning & Development staff are working to finalize drafts of the updated planning documents. In the coming months, the proposed policies and regulations will be presented to Regional Council for review and approval.  If approved by Regional Council, the updated documents will also be reviewed by the provincial government.

Do other areas across the municipality face similar issues?

Yes, however, no other rivers within the municipality were designated in the 1980 Federal Flood Reduction Program. The Sackville Rivers have experienced and continue to experience frequent flooding. This was a concern in 1980 because of the amount of development occurring at the time. 

Are other cities facing the same problem?

Yes. Many cities in Canada and around the world are facing the same challenges. Changing weather patterns, erosion and new development can affect the flood risk areas and controls on new development are often implemented whenever financial, safety and environmental impacts are a concern.

What will the municipality do to help the landowners in the 1-in-20-year floodplain?

The municipality is in the process of assessing what can be done to help with flood mitigation, including investigating potential funding sources and researching flood preparedness.

In the short term, residents can reduce the risks of flood damage to their properties by following some simple measures, as described in the resources listed below. Risks can also be reduced with the adoption of development controls so that future development will not impact the flow of the river along the channel. This is important to prevent upstream flooding from occurring from future development taking place downstream. It can also reduce the impacts to the unsuspecting home buyer who may not be aware that the property they are about to purchase is in a floodplain.


For questions related to the Sackville Rivers Floodplains project, contact and or call 311.

Additional Floodplain Regulation and Resources

Federal Resources

Provincial Resources

Nova Scotia Flood Preparedness

NS Government Flood Information

What to do if Your Property Floods

The Province of Nova Scotia include flood risk in the Statements of Provincial Interest. The flood risk statement applies to all flood risk areas that are designated under the Canada-Nova Scotia Flood Damage Reduction Program. The Sackville and Little Sackville Rivers are included in the program. The goal of the statement of interest for flood risk is to protect public safety and property and to reduce the requirement for flood control works and flood damage restoration in floodplain.

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