Look to wetlands to help solve flooding
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/07/2010 (4403 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With recent flooding events, people are stressed out. Crops are under water; farmers’ profits have washed away; costly infrastructure damage is everywhere throughout the province; and provincial flood watches, disaster claims and state of emergency declarations due to overland flooding have been common.
No one can disagree that we have had abnormally wet conditions this spring and summer across the Prairies. It has resulted in a lot of anguish and significant economic losses. People will deal with the immediate crisis as best they can, but as the crisis is still fresh in people’s minds, we must turn our attention to protection from future occurrences.
There already have been discussions and calls for improved drainage infrastructure to prevent and mitigate against damages from future flooding events. When it comes to dealing with excess water, however, we all too often focus on drainage solutions that simply facilitate the passage of water off our immediate area of concern. The problem is, when we improve our local situation by moving water from one area, we usually create new problems for others downstream.
Perhaps we need to consider that drainage is the cause of many of our water problems rather than the solution. Recent research by Ducks Unlimited Canada conducted in the Broughton’s Creek watershed in southwestern Manitoba estimates that wetland drainage has increased total runoff by approximately 60 per cent and peak discharge during flood events by almost 30 per cent.
We need to remember that wetland drainage doesn’t just remove the water from wetlands; it also removes the water from the contributing areas of those drained wetlands during spring runoff and storm events and sends it downstream to others.
If we keep draining wetlands, our flooding problems will only worsen. DUC research estimates that if all remaining wetlands are lost from the Broughton’s Creek watershed, total runoff will almost triple in volume and peak discharges will more than double. Given the damages and impacts to human life that recent events have created, I think everyone will agree we can’t afford to continue down that path.
So what is the solution? First, we need to stop making the problem worse. We need to convince governments that producers need appropriate signals, policies, programs and incentives to keep our remaining wetlands on the land and perhaps, in time, we can move toward a net gain in wetlands via restoration.
With the conditions we’ve had this spring, wetlands could have held vast amounts of water off of our downstream neighbours, farmers, towns and roads, providing a vital flood protection service for all of us. That is worth paying for.
In southwestern Manitoba alone, the value of prevention services that have been lost due to wetland drainage is estimated at $37 million annually.
We also need to keep in mind, however, that the price of this flood protection service is being borne by the landowners upon whose land the wetlands exist, and that is one of the reasons they are being drained in the first place.
From a societal investment point of view, wetlands are worth much more in place than drained and we need to help producers in providing the solution. Albert Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” No better words were spoken about wetlands and drainage.
Bob Grant is Manitoba manager for Duck Unlimited Canada.