'Urgent action needed' to preserve wetlands and mitigate flood risk: report
The Insurance Bureau of Canada is calling for “urgent action” when it comes to preserving Canada’s wetlands as a way of limiting flood risk.
A new report, issued Tuesday in partnership with the Intact Centre and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, indicates restoring ponds and wetlands can be a more cost-friendly and effective way of preventing flooding than man-made alternatives, such as dams or levies.
“Often, we overthink solutions,” Craig Stewart, the IBC’s vice-president of Federal Affairs, told CTV News. “We have a lot out there already buffering us from harm. In terms of our coastal wetlands, our inland wetlands, our forests, we need to be doing a better job of protecting these in the places where they protect us.”
Flooding has become a growing issue in the country. Insurance loses from extreme weather in Canada -- primarily flooding -- averaged $405 million annually from 1983-2008, but has since skyrocketed to $1.8 billion annually over the last decade.
In some areas of the country, maintaining or restoring waterways and wetlands has already proven economically beneficial.
In Gibsons, B.C., about 46 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, ponds are saving the community up to $4 million in annual rainfall storage. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, a restored wetland is helping save the surrounding area roughly $3.7 million annually in flood prevention and water filtration.
Despite the apparent benefits of maintaining Canadian wetlands, they are disappearing to development at staggering rates. According to the IBC, southern Ontario has lost 72 per cent of its wetlands to construction, while the southern Okanagan region of British Columbia has lost 85 per cent.
Both regions have been hit with costly flooding thus far in 2018.
In May, British Columbia’s southern interior was hit with catastrophic flooding that lasted several days. Torrential rain mixed with melting snow from the mountains forced thousands of people to evacuate and damaged hundreds of homes in the process.
In early August, a flash flood in Toronto submerged cars and flooded basements, leaving an estimated $80 million worth of damages in its tracks.
Anne Hammill, director of the Resilience Program at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, says wetland areas can also be effective in protecting urban areas from flooding.
“The vegetated lands can help buffer and sort of prevent water from moving as quickly and accumulating in places that are greater risk,” she said.
The federal government has committed $2 billion to build traditional infrastructure and restoring natural protections. In the Paris Agreement, it acknowledged the ability of natural ecosystems to protect against extreme weather.
The IBC says if the government truly intends to uphold its international promises, time is of the essence.
“If Canada remains committed to the Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement, it needs to act now, in innovative and unprecedented ways, before it cannot act at all,” the report states.
With a report from CTV’s Vanessa Lee in Montreal