Ecologists, insurance companies partner up to mitigate flooding
Researchers using nature-based solutions to protect urban communities from flooding caused by climate change
Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled "Our Changing Planet" to show and explain the effects of climate change. Keep up with the latest news on our Climate and Environment page.
As climate change persists, researchers and stakeholders are working together to come up with nature based solutions to damage in urban communities caused by extreme weather.
Nature Force, a project led by Ducks Unlimited in partnership with 15 property and casualty insurance companies, aims to use natural infrastructure, such as wetlands, to restore and protect high-risk areas from flooding.
Thousands of British Columbians were forced from their homes last fall when the perfect storm of circumstances caused severe flooding in several parts of the province. Those floods are now the costliest disaster in B.C. history; insured costs were estimated at $515 million as of January, although that number is likely higher and does not include uninsured costs.
"These unprecedented challenges require innovative solutions," project co-ordinator Eric Balke told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.
Wetlands, Balke said, manage water fluctuations by allowing water to move, for the land to absorb and slow water, and promote sediment buildup — all useful tools for minimizing flood risk.
"Our river is like a garden hose — you have hard armouring along the banks. It's like putting your thumb over an opening of the garden hose and really forcing that water out really fast. But if you provide space for the water to move, you're pulling your thumb back."
According to Balke, wetlands also help fight climate change by taking carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the ground.
"They're fantastic," he said.
Planning for the project began this month, and one of the areas they're focusing on is Sturgeon Bank in Richmond.
Balke said they'll take sediment that's been dredged from the Fraser River and repurpose it by depositing it on the foreshore at Sturgeon Bank to try to mimic natural processes of sediment delivery.
They're also looking at restoring a tidal marsh that has died off to support the area as sea levels rise.
Nature Force is still in its infancy, and Balke said as his team identifies more areas of need they will take into consideration the social perspective and scientific evidence. They'll meet with communities and local government to find out what the people living there actually need and want from the space, and from there, will consult with researchers to find out how to accomplish that work.
With files from On the Coast and The Canadian Press