Posted by: Vicki Burns | November 25, 2013

From Stormwater Management to Rain Water Management – How This Shift Can Help Our Lakes

A couple of weeks ago I attended a workshop on Stormwater Management Solutions put on by the Water Caucus of the Manitoba Eco-Network. There were several very interesting speakers including the first, Heather Mack, who was representing the Insurance Bureau of Canada and who made the point that insurance claims related to water damage from the intense storms we’re getting, are rising dramatically. The insurance industry is trying to get municipal officials across the country to pay more serious attention to where the areas of highest risk are. The recent unprecedented flooding in and around Calgary and the flash flood in Toronto this summer, are examples of what we are likely to see more of in the future.

For those of us working on freshwater lake issues, the most dominant one now, being the proliferation of blue-green algae blooms, every extreme storm adds to the possibility of greater algal blooms because of the phosphorus being run off the land in the heavy rain. So anything we can do to slow the run-off and help some of that stormwater to penetrate into the soil, is good news for our lakes. Sharyn Inward, Program Manager for RAIN of Green Communities Canada presented some very practical advice for how to do that in our urban centres. From proper rain barrel management (empty them after big storms in order to get ready for the next one) to creating rain gardens, having permeable parking surfaces, and dog waste composters, these are all ideas that homeowners can implement.

Rain Garden Example - photo from Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District

Rain Garden Example – photo from Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District

Beyond that our municipal governments can adopt policies and practices that shift from stormwater to rainwater management. Laura Brandes of the Polis Project has written a great commentary on the steps the city of Victoria is taking in this direction.  She says there are 3 principles that need to be adopted: 1. Reducing the amount of impermeable surfaces by changing the way we build and retrofit our communities. 2. Using rain as a resource and as a viable decentralized source of water for non-potable needs. 3. Integrating decision-making across and within jurisdictions on a watershed scale.

A few years ago when I was working at the Winnipeg Humane Society and helping to design the new shelter, we decided to work on getting LEED certification for the building. We incorporated 2 features that many people didn’t understand. The first was to have a gravel parking lot so that it was permeable and the second was to collect rainwater to be used for flushing the toilets. I’m glad to see that these ideas, aimed at re-thinking our approach to stormwater, are gaining more attention. There are so many good reasons to do so, not the least of which is the health of our Prairie lakes.

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