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Importance of Natural Infrastructure for Flood Mitigation

In a recent report, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) explored how natural infrastructure is playing an increasingly important role in flood prevention. As more development occurs, there is a clearing out of wetlands and natural areas causing limited options for water storage. This leaves communities vulnerable to the effects of major flooding. By conserving and restoring natural systems to their original state they can provide effective ecosystem services for neighbouring communities. In comparison to grey infrastructure solutions, using natural resources assists not only with flood prevention but can also uphold other environmental commitments such as providing habitat and supporting local biodiversity.

Pelly's Lake water control

The increase in extreme weather events highlights the need for more green spaces that have the ability soak up and store water. Most urban areas are currently dominated by non-porous materials that do not effectively mitigate flooding. Unlike dense urban areas, wetlands and natural landscapes are capable of slowing down flood waters and lowering flood water heights during extreme rainfall. To improve flood mitigation in urban areas green infrastructure, such as permeable pavement, is an effective option.

Coastal communities face a different kind of threat with coastal storms adding the pressures of violent and rising waves brought on by strong winds. Natural coastal features, such as salt marshes and mangroves, can prevent erosion and damages to coastal properties. With development along coastlines natural infrastructure is removed, exposing coastal communities to the effects of aggressive storms. Natural infrastructure along the coast can help with flood prevention and also supports local ecosystems and can serve as a carbon sink. Instead of constantly adapting to worsening conditions, communities can mitigate the effects of climate change and floods with natural infrastructure.

There are many examples of municipalities that are harnessing the use of natural infrastructure to lessen the risk of flooding. The IBC’s report shares the story of Gibsons, British Columbia, a town that is maintaining and monitoring an aquifer to determine if it can continue to store water at the necessary rate. The aquifer also provides filtration for this water which is an important water source for the local population (Insurance Bureau of Canada, 2018). South of the border, the City of Atlanta, Georgia has taken steps to install the largest permeable pavement system in North America (City of Atlanta, 2018) proving that there are sustainable solutions for urban systems requiring solid surfaces. These municipalities are among many more that are making a difference by investing in natural or green infrastructure. These actions led by municipalities, along with the help of businesses and individuals, will make the greatest impact as the increase in natural infrastructure decreases long term damages and costs.

Get involved

Ask questions about the role of natural infrastructure in your community and find out if your municipality is investing in natural infrastructure to manage floods.

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Follow @PARTNERS4ACTION on Twitter for flood-related news and updates.

For more information on floods and tips for how to prepare visit FloodSmartCanada.ca. FloodSmartCanada.ca provides people across the country with an easy to use information database full of flood-related content.

Works Cited:

City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management. (2018). Green Infrastructure Strategic Action Plan. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1u65BWi5qBFA-iYQmdBLm9wAVE7yHJnyf/view.

Insurance Bureau of Canada, University of Waterloo, Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, & International Institute for Sustainable Development. (2018). Combatting Canada’s Rising Flood Costs: Natural infrastructure is an underutilized option. Retrieved September 26, 2018, from http://assets.ibc.ca/Documents/Resources/IBC-Natural-Infrastructure-Report-2018.pdf

Lorraine Stevenson/Manitoba Co-operator, 2015. https://www.manitobacooperator.ca/news-opinion/news/local/pellys-lake-watershed-management-project-complete/