Mitigating flood risks in your own backyard
A new report details ways local communities can boost their resiliency to extreme weather events
A new report out of the University of Waterloo summarizes a five year, cross-Canada project to demonstrate how local communities can make small improvements to the landscape that could make big differences during floods.
As extreme weather events become more common, flooding is an increasing threat, causing more than a billion dollars in economic losses to Canadians every year. Familiar images of sandbags piled high to protect buildings are last minute attempts to direct rising waters away from homes and offices during a flood. But relatively simple actions taken ahead of time to direct water back into the ground before a flood can prove to be more effective.
The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation is an applied research centre within the faculty of the environment at the University of Waterloo that works with homeowners, communities, governments and businesses to identify and reduce the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. Between 2012 and 2017, a series of 11 community-based projects were carried out across the country to demonstrate how relatively easy and practical changes to local water management — from backyard improvements to local waterways — can go a long way to reducing the effects of flooding.
Paved surfaces means the water has nowhere to go
The biggest contributor to flooding is the fact that excess water from heavy storms has nowhere to go. As our urban areas grow, we have covered what was once porous forest floor or plant-covered land with pavement, sidewalks, driveways and patios. Rainwater that was once able to sink into the soil now runs across the surface, accumulates into large volumes and overwhelms storm sewer systems. The result is a flood and costly property damage.
One solution is to make the urban landscape more porous, so the water can sink into the ground rather than accumulate on the streets and in basements. The project ranged from single home modifications to community-based tree-planting to shoreline improvements.
Potential ways to mitigate flood damage
Among the 11 projects: experts visited 100 homes in Calgary as part of an education program to look at simple solutions for the household such as changing the angle of the downspouts, so water doesn't fall close to the foundation of the house; 30 "Depave" projects in Ontario and Alberta replaced pavement with porous material for water absorption; in Quebec, a green alley was created in one community, while trees were planted in a storm runoff area in another.
Sometimes the scale of change seems overwhelming, such as the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy. But little changes, carried out by a lot of people is a positive move in the right direction as we adapt to living on a changing world.- Bob McDonald, Quirks & Quarks
On a larger scale, local wetlands were created to not only capture water, but filter it and provide a habitat for wildlife. And finally, shorelines along estuaries and creeks from Nova Scotia to British Columbia were improved to prevent erosion.
The beauty of these projects is that they were mostly community-based. People were willing to give their time and muscle power to rip up pavement, dig in the dirt, plant trees or gardens because they realized it was an investment in the safety of their own homes and businesses. It also improved the aesthetics of the regions by adding more greenery.
It is a harsh reality that we need to adapt to a changing planet. Sometimes the scale of change seems overwhelming, such as the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy. But little changes, carried out by a lot of people is a positive move in the right direction as we adapt to living on a changing world.