By Pauline Kerr, Advance-Times editor
We had a winter characterized by frequent thaws, more precipitation in the form of rain than usual, black ice on the roads, and generally warmer conditions. The spring had fluctuations in temperature and precipitation, and this summer has seen generally hot, dry conditions punctuated by brief but intense rainfall.
It isn’t an aberration, warn Maitland Valley Conservation Authority general manager Phil Beard and water resources engineer Steve Jackson. It’s part of a trend identified in a 2008 report initiated by the MVCA and completed by Huron Geosciences. The report assembled and analyzed climate trend data between 1950 and 2006.
The purpose of the report was to assist the MVCA in providing assistance to member municipalities.
Beard noted the same trends were identified and used by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) in its recent Rain Barrel Study. Wingham residents played an important role in that study, the purpose of which was to show how using old-fashioned rain barrels could significantly reduce the stress on municipal wastewater infrastructure. In essence, the rain barrels hold back enough water to keep it from overwhelming sewers.
An IBC press release stated water damage insurance claims have soared to $1.7 billion annually in Canada, easily surpassing fire as the leading cause of damage to homes. The increase in water damage and severe weather spurred IBC to investigate ways to help communities deal with excess water.
In an interview earlier this summer, shortly after the results of the rain barrel study were announced, Beard said he found it “interesting that the IBC should have to take the lead on this.”
Jackson, who participated in the same interview, said summer rainfall now tends to come in storms, not the day-long steady rainfall that soaks into the ground, and municipal infrastructure was not designed to handle the sudden high volumes of water. The result is urban flooding, he said.
Municipalities are definitely being affected by climate change, said Jackson. More winter thaws and icing on roads has led to them exploring technologies like using beet juice (to stop ice from adhering to pavement).
The MVCA is encouraging municipalities and the general public to do whatever they can to promote resiliance on the land. Jackson said this includes protecting the soil by planting more cover – brief, intense rainfall tends to run off, not soak in, and it takes the soil with it. “Increasing resiliance means we’re better able to deal with changing climate trends.” He warned that the trends examined in the report only indicate what has happened, not what is yet to come. In his words, “The curve could get steeper.”
Despite this summer’s drought, Beard and Jackson said this area is likely to see more lake effect precipitation – in the past 50 years, the area has seen a 30 per cent increase in rainfall and snow.
Jackson noted more severe droughts are part of the trend. It doesn’t rain as often, but when it does, a lot of rain tends to fall in a short time. The report indicated we’ll be seeing more variability in weather, with storm systems not as predictable.
Beard said, “We used to be able to plan on snow in late November, a January thaw and a melt in March. That doesn’t happen any more. The January thaw caused flooding. Now every season is flood season.”
Jackson agreed. “We’re one thunder storm away from flooding.”
Beard said kind of storms that are becoming more common are like the one that dropped 10 inches of rain on Molesworth in July of 2005, and left the fields waist-deep in water. Or the kind that washed out a six-foot culvert in Ripley.
It should be noted, Huron County council is presently looking at donating $5,000 to Thunder Bay, to help that community recover from flooding that left the sewage treatment under several feet of water. A multi-million dollar lawsuit has been launched in Thunder Bay, citing climate change and a sewer system that was not adequate to deal with it.
For Jackson, the bottom line has to be resiliancy.
Beard discussed how natural infrastructure can be used to slow down runoff so it won’t wash out soil. Wingham’s ecological park is an excellent example of what happens when we put back flood plain and forests – we get places to go fishing, hiking, bird-watching. “We need to promote more shade and drought resistance,” Beard said.
“If we have an opportunity to naturalize an area, we need to – it holds more water,” said Jackson.