Posted by: Vicki Burns | July 6, 2013

Floods and Blue-Green Algae, Why Investing in Natural Infrastructure is Part of the Solution

Okotoks rail bridge in Calgary, photo credit Gary East

Okotoks rail bridge in Calgary, photo credit Gary East

In recent months I’ve written several posts about how drainage of our wetlands across the Prairies is contributing to more overland flooding during heavy rain events and greater severity of spring floods. We’ve decreased tremendously the capacity of our landscapes to hold onto water and to slow its movement off the land. Now that summer heat has finally arrived, we’re awaiting the onset of one of the other big consequences of that drainage, the growth of blue-green algae blooms in our lakes. The water rushing off the land carries much phosphorus which feeds those algal blooms and the lack of wetland vegetation to filter out some of that phosphorus is a big part of the problem as well.
I was gratified to see this post from the David Suzuki Foundation “Working with nature can protect us from floods” because it spells out so clearly the benefits of working with nature in any development we do, rather than assuming we can build wherever we want. It reflects the growing recognition of the value of protecting and restoring wetlands and forests, in economic terms as well as environmental benefits. The frequency of the intense rainstorms that have caused so much flooding in Alberta and across the Prairies will likely increase as climate scientists predict. So assuring people that this is only a once in 100 year event is no longer a wise approach.

Earlier this week I made a presentation to a standing committee of the Manitoba Legislature on Bill 20 – The Manitoba Building and Renewal Funding and Fiscal Management Act. The bill is giving the government authority to raise our provincial sales tax by 1 %. One of the justifications for doing so, is the need to invest in infrastructure and flood prevention. My presentation was focused on the need to ensure that at least a portion of that money should go towards investments in natural infrastructure, wetland protection, restoration and other small water retention and phosphorus capture ponds. The beauty of investing in that type of natural infrastructure, is that it will help reduce flood risks, will build in resiliency for droughts and will help keep our lakes clean at the same time as keeping water on the land, rather than moving it off to become someone else’s problem.

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