Posted by: Vicki Burns | May 20, 2011

Flooding and Wetlands in the Lake Winnipeg Watershed – How Are they Connected?

I just read a very interesting article that links the tremendous loss of wetlands across the Prairies to the more frequent floods we’re seeing in Manitoba. We’re hopefully getting near the end of this year’s flood, although there are still some tense times ahead for communities near Lake Manitoba and some 3500 people have had to evacuate.
There is no doubt that the heavy snowfall this past winter, along with the water logged ground from last fall, are a major part of the reason that we’re experiencing such significant flooding along both the Red River and the Assiniboine River. But if we had not drained almost 70% of the wetlands across the Prairies over the last century, we would have had the benefit of their soaking up a lot of that water, similar to the way sponges function. I’ve now heard wetlands described both as “nature’s kidneys” and as “sponges”. Ducks Unlimited has done some very interesting research in the Broughton Creek watershed that demonstrates the degree of wetland loss over the past 40 years and spells out how much that contributes to run off from that area. They state that if we continue to drain the wetlands in that area, the total run-off could triple( total water draining downstream) and the peak discharge could double( high water volumes).
So, although I can understand why we’re  hearing  talk of the need for more drainage, it is just the opposite that we really need to prevent worse flooding in the future. At this point we have no idea how much this year’s flood mitigation and compensation are going to cost us but I hope that we can convince government to also invest a healthy chunk of money into retaining and even restoring some of our wetlands. That really would be a good investment for the future.
The Red River Basin Commission is focussing on flood solutions and I’m sure retaining water on the land is a big part of that solution. I’ll be blogging about their work in the near future.

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