Will there be flooding? Will there be drought?
Planning for both is essential to help ward off the financial hits these weather extremes bring, speakers at last month’s Manitoba Conservation Districts Association convention said.
In the Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) they’re looking at ways to be ready for whatever climate change brings, and to convince ratepayers of the financial necessity of doing so, said its manager.
“We’re trying to see if we can’t come up with a flood and drought adaptation plan… and the economics behind it,” Jodi Goertzen, the SRRCD’s district manager told the 42nd annual convention of the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association.
“We’re working with the RM of Hanover because they have ideal locations that keep washing out that they would like to retain water on,” she said.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s the cost to them to do it so they can then show their ratepayers a cost analysis of doing nothing as opposed to the cost of retention.”
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What they know already is that water control projects cost upwards of $200,000 but fixing and repairing roads and washed-out basements will run up bills in the millions, she said.
Ultimately, SRRCD wants to be able to make an economic argument for the merits for water holdbacks across all municipalities the SRRCD covers, she added.
Getting in front of all types of climate change risk was the key message by other presenters at last month’s convention, focused on a theme of ‘the economy of the environment.’
If you want an idea of what climate change looks like think of 2011, Hank Venema, the director of the International Institutes for Sustainable Development’s Sustainable Natural Resources Management program told the Brandon conference.
Within a matter of weeks that year an intense period of precipitation and flooding flipped over to very dry conditions.
“I’m told that some sections of land were under flood insurance and drought insurance claims in the same year,” he said.
Such a year — and the prospect of more ahead — shows the need to find ways to stretch the water budget across a longer period of time, he said.
Flood protection remains very important, but it’s also important to realize raising dikes and discharging more water “doesn’t buy a litre of drought protection,” Venema said.
“We need a different style of infrastructure to deal with these kinds of risks.”
Venema is also director of planning with the Prairie Climate Centre which last year released a series of online maps projecting how Western Canada would be affected by heat and precipitation under various climate change scenarios.
Under worst-case scenarios by about 2065 this area will experience as many as 45 to 50 days of +30 C summer temperatures, making this a climate similar to that of the present-day Texas panhandle. If projections on future precipitation prove correct that dry season will also follow intensely wet springs.
That’s a climate scenario that makes developing distributive water management systems that provide flood and drought protection as well as other ecosystems services essential, he said.
“What we can reasonably project is we’re going to have a slug of water in the early part of the growing season, and we’re going to have to stretch that hydrological budget across a longer, hotter, drier growing season,” he said.
Moreover, projects that keep water on the land will also produce a host of spinoff benefits beyond flood mitigation, to nutrient recycling, and renewable energy production, and GHG reductions, he said.
The Pelly’s Lake Watershed Management Project, on a site near Holland, Man. in the La Salle Redboine Conservation District is a very good example of a surface water management system built to produce these multiple benefits, he said.
The 640-acre site includes two water-retention structures that hold back spring run-off equivalent to one-third of the Stephenfield Lake Reservoir, releasing it gradually beginning in June which serves as a late-season recharge for the reservoir. The low-lying site produces abundant cattails which are now harvested and burned as biofuel. The removal of the biomass is also preventing phosphorus from washing downstream to Lake Winnipeg.
“You’re harvesting water, probably one of the most ancient technologies in the world,” Venema said.
Manitoba’s Climate and Green Plan has this approach in mind in its proposed surface watershed approach, with Manitoba’s 18 conservation districts, to be renamed watershed districts, playing a key role.
The Green Plan also includes a new Growing Outcomes for Watersheds (GROW) program for Manitoba, designed after the Alternative Land Use Services program, to be delivered in partnerships with landowners, non-governmental organizations, CDs and governments.
Goertzen spoke of how key those partnerships are, citing various successes SRRCD has had constructing water control projects.
Key to the future will always involve winning over landowners, she said. In SRRCD some were completely opposed initially to water retention programs, but ultimately changed their tune once they saw the good that came from them. Nowadays the SRRCD is regularly pressed to do more water control programs, Goertzen said.
“We need more. There’s huge demand for it.”