Windsor a 'sitting duck' for flooding due to lack of trees, wetlands in Essex County

Disappearing forests and wetlands in Essex County means flooding in the City of Windsor, says the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

New Environmental Commissioner of Ontario report highlights issues with disappearing forests; clean water

The record flooding in Windsor-Essex in August 2017 flooded more than 6,000 basements. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Disappearing forests and wetlands in Essex County means more flooding in the City of Windsor, says the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

An entire volume of Dianne Saxe's latest report, entitled "Back to Basics," is dedicated to disappearing forests and wetlands in southern Ontario.

"Essex County, which is upstream of you, has the lowest rate of wetlands and woodlands in Ontario — only 3 per cent of trees, and only about 1.5 per cent of wetlands," Saxe explained to CBC News. "The minimum necessary for a healthy ecosystem and some kind of reasonable flood resilience is 30 per cent woods and 10 per cent wetlands."

Per cent forest cover in the watersheds of southern Ontario in 2018. (Environmental Commissioner of Ontario)

As a result, she says, rain gushes from the county into the city.

"Basically, you're an order of magnitude less woodlands and wetlands than you need to absorb the rain when it comes. So you're sitting ducks when it floods."

This increased amount of rainwater also contributes to the amount of raw sewage dumped into rivers and lakes as a result of overwhelmed city sewer systems, another issue highlighted in Saxe's report.

The environmental watchdog says these issues can be reduced or eliminated through a series of measures.

"Reestablishing woodlands and wetlands in Essex County would go a long way to absorb the water so it doesn't flood into the sewer," she said. "We also know that within the city itself, Windsor doesn't ... charge people for the storm water they allow to flood into the sewers."

Parking lots that let storm water run into the sewer contribute to overwhelmed sewer systems, says Dianne Saxe. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Saxe gave the example of a parking lot as a type of land use that contribute to flooding and sewage discharge.

"Because they're just an open hard surface, the water just runs directly into the sewer," she said, noting that cities such as Kitchener and Mississauga incentivize property owners through fees to drain storm water into the soil.

Green infrastructure such as green roofs can also help, Saxe added.


Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email


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