Flood funding snubs make a case for green flood solutions

June 25, 2024

By: Lina Azeez

The federal government has issued a wake-up call on preparing for a future of global warming by denying the bids of several B.C. communities for funding to support large flood infrastructure projects.

The decisions to deny funding for major rebuilding projects proposed by Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton underscore an urgent issue: It’s not just a matter of building back bigger, but building back better. We need comprehensive, collaborative solutions that make use of “green infrastructure” and natural defences.

Sumas Lake in the Fraser Valley was drained in 1924 to create farmland.

The funding decision was a blow to Abbotsford, which is still grappling with the aftermath of the 2021 floods. However, it does bring into focus the fact that traditional concrete-and-steel flood management approaches are not only costly but also increasingly inadequate in the face of shifting climate patterns.

The same week Abbotsford received the bad news, a study from the University of British Columbia offered a potential path forward. The study suggested restoring Sumas Lake – a natural floodplain drained in 1924 to be converted into farmland – could serve as an effective flood defence strategy. By reflooding the lowest parts of Sumas Lake, Abbotsford could tap into the lake’s natural capacity to absorb excess water, thereby mitigating the impact of severe flooding.

Such natural flood defences are gaining momentum among environmental scientists and urban planners. There is a growing body of research that supports working in harmony with nature, rather than against it, as a more sustainable and effective approach to managing flood risks.

“Green” flood infrastructure harnesses the power of nature, not concrete. Unlike traditional or “grey” infrastructure, which relies on artificial barriers like dams and dikes, green infrastructure includes:

Wetland restoration: Restoring wetlands can absorb and slow down floodwaters, providing a buffer during heavy rains;

Riparian buffers: Planting trees and vegetation along rivers and streams can stabilize banks, reduce erosion, and filter pollutants;

Bioswales: Designing shallow, vegetated channels that slow, capture, and filter rainwater and rain-induced floods, can reduce the volume and speed of runoff lowering the risk of flooding;

Permeable sidewalks and parking lots: Unlike conventional sidewalks, these allow water to seep through, reducing surface runoff.

Abbotsford farms under water following catastrophic flooding in November 2021.

Natural flood defenses use natural landscape features, such as:

Reconnecting floodplains: Allowing rivers to overflow into adjacent floodplains can prevent water from inundating urban areas;

Set-back dikes: Moving dikes back from the edge of the river to create more room for rivers to expand during high flows. This approach allows rivers to access their natural floodplains;

Reforestation: Planting trees in upland areas can intercept rainwater and reduce or slow the volume reaching rivers;

Coastal wetlands: These act as barriers against storm surges and coastal flooding;

Floodproofing farmlands: Using agricultural practices such as cover cropping will improve soil structures and increase water infiltration. Contour farming or plowing along the contour lines of the land can slow water flow and increase water infiltration.

In the case of Sumas Lake, the natural solution comes at the cost of the loss of some productive agricultural lands and the displacement of some in the community. Those costs need to be weighed against the constant stress and fear of future flooding and the economic losses that will ensue.

We Need to Embrace Green Solutions

These federal flood infrastructure funding decisions should be a catalyst for a paradigm shift in how we approach flood management. Instead of doubling down on inadequate traditional methods that are often costly (approximately $3 billion in Abbotsford’s case), we need to invest in green flood infrastructure and natural defenses. These solutions are not only more sustainable but often more cost-effective in the long run. In the case of the UBC study, the researchers are estimating a cost of roughly $1 billion.

Community members can help drive this shift by demanding local governments and policymakers prioritize green solutions. As global warming continues to increase the frequency and severity of flooding events, the need for new approaches has never been more urgent.

We can create more resilient, sustainable communities capable of withstanding the challenges of global warming. Let nature be our guide to a safer future for all.

Share This Story!

Flood funding snubs make a case for green flood solutions

June 25, 2024

By: Lina Azeez

The federal government has issued a wake-up call on preparing for a future of global warming by denying the bids of several B.C. communities for funding to support large flood infrastructure projects.

The decisions to deny funding for major rebuilding projects proposed by Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton underscore an urgent issue: It’s not just a matter of building back bigger, but building back better. We need comprehensive, collaborative solutions that make use of “green infrastructure” and natural defences.

Sumas Lake in the Fraser Valley was drained in 1924 to create farmland.

The funding decision was a blow to Abbotsford, which is still grappling with the aftermath of the 2021 floods. However, it does bring into focus the fact that traditional concrete-and-steel flood management approaches are not only costly but also increasingly inadequate in the face of shifting climate patterns.

The same week Abbotsford received the bad news, a study from the University of British Columbia offered a potential path forward. The study suggested restoring Sumas Lake – a natural floodplain drained in 1924 to be converted into farmland – could serve as an effective flood defence strategy. By reflooding the lowest parts of Sumas Lake, Abbotsford could tap into the lake’s natural capacity to absorb excess water, thereby mitigating the impact of severe flooding.

Such natural flood defences are gaining momentum among environmental scientists and urban planners. There is a growing body of research that supports working in harmony with nature, rather than against it, as a more sustainable and effective approach to managing flood risks.

“Green” flood infrastructure harnesses the power of nature, not concrete. Unlike traditional or “grey” infrastructure, which relies on artificial barriers like dams and dikes, green infrastructure includes:

Wetland restoration: Restoring wetlands can absorb and slow down floodwaters, providing a buffer during heavy rains;

Riparian buffers: Planting trees and vegetation along rivers and streams can stabilize banks, reduce erosion, and filter pollutants;

Bioswales: Designing shallow, vegetated channels that slow, capture, and filter rainwater and rain-induced floods, can reduce the volume and speed of runoff lowering the risk of flooding;

Permeable sidewalks and parking lots: Unlike conventional sidewalks, these allow water to seep through, reducing surface runoff.

Abbotsford farms under water following catastrophic flooding in November 2021.

Natural flood defenses use natural landscape features, such as:

Reconnecting floodplains: Allowing rivers to overflow into adjacent floodplains can prevent water from inundating urban areas;

Set-back dikes: Moving dikes back from the edge of the river to create more room for rivers to expand during high flows. This approach allows rivers to access their natural floodplains;

Reforestation: Planting trees in upland areas can intercept rainwater and reduce or slow the volume reaching rivers;

Coastal wetlands: These act as barriers against storm surges and coastal flooding;

Floodproofing farmlands: Using agricultural practices such as cover cropping will improve soil structures and increase water infiltration. Contour farming or plowing along the contour lines of the land can slow water flow and increase water infiltration.

In the case of Sumas Lake, the natural solution comes at the cost of the loss of some productive agricultural lands and the displacement of some in the community. Those costs need to be weighed against the constant stress and fear of future flooding and the economic losses that will ensue.

We Need to Embrace Green Solutions

These federal flood infrastructure funding decisions should be a catalyst for a paradigm shift in how we approach flood management. Instead of doubling down on inadequate traditional methods that are often costly (approximately $3 billion in Abbotsford’s case), we need to invest in green flood infrastructure and natural defenses. These solutions are not only more sustainable but often more cost-effective in the long run. In the case of the UBC study, the researchers are estimating a cost of roughly $1 billion.

Community members can help drive this shift by demanding local governments and policymakers prioritize green solutions. As global warming continues to increase the frequency and severity of flooding events, the need for new approaches has never been more urgent.

We can create more resilient, sustainable communities capable of withstanding the challenges of global warming. Let nature be our guide to a safer future for all.

Share This Story!

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