Wetlands reduce flood risks
Wetlands can reduce damages from flooding
Extreme weather adds to increased flood-related insurance claims; preserving wetlands, natural areas can play role in reducing risk, adding protection – says speaker from Intact Centre
More than 60 people, at an annual conservation awards evening, heard that flood-related damages are going up but preserving wetlands can help to reduce risk from those floods.
Natalia Moudrak is Director of the Infrastructure Adaptation Program, Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation (www.intactcentreclimateadaptation.ca). She was the keynote speaker at the annual awards evening hosted by Ausable Bayfield Conservation on March 22, 2018. The presenter spoke to the Intact Centre report called When the Big Storms Hit: The Role of Wetlands to Limit Urban and Rural Flood Damage. The speaker said the study shows how much wetlands can do to limit flood damage. The Intact Centre study found that preserving wetlands could reduce flood damage costs to buildings by almost 40 per cent. The report showed that by preserving wetlands in a rural area near Mississauga there could be savings of $3.5 million in flood damages in a major flood event. In the case of a major flood event in urban Waterloo, the study suggested more than $51 million in damages could be prevented through wetland conservation. “We found that sometimes, simply keeping nature natural, in its natural state, can be quite meaningful for flood attenuation,” the presenter said.
Climate change and extreme weather are happening and the effects have financial and human costs, according to the speaker. Conservation authorities are “on the front lines” in adapting to these changes through flood plain management and by building flood resiliency and natural infrastructure. It’s better to avoid the impacts of disasters through adaptation than it is to pay for disasters after they happen, the attendees heard. “Adaptation is the gift that keeps on giving,” Moudrak said. For those who think there might be costs to adapt, it is even more costly not to adapt, she said. “Every time a disaster is avoided, and we invest in adapting, the return on investment from that action increases.” Building natural infrastructure and increasing resiliency could result in less impact on people, lower costs for governments, and possibly reductions in premiums for individuals.
The speaker discussed the development of new guidelines and standards for flood resiliency which could improve the design of homes, and new and existing communities in order to reduce impacts of floods.
The Intact Centre is working on a framework which will help further quantify the role natural infrastructure plays in climate adaptation. To this end, natural infrastructure (e.g., wetlands, green spaces) can protect and improve water quality, create habitat, and reduce drought and protect against flooding.
The costs of extreme weather in Canada continue to rise, the presenter said, and impacts and emerging concerns include a higher risk of mortgage defaults and impacts on mental health and worker productivity. Water damage is the leading cause of personal property claims, according to Intact Financial Corporation.
The annual conservation awards evening was held on World Water Day. The presentation showed how wetlands and other natural infrastructure can support key areas of adaptation as identified by the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, including: translating scientific knowledge into action; building climate resilience through infrastructure; protecting and improving human health and well-being; supporting vulnerable regions; and reducing climate-related hazards and disaster risks.
Prior to joining the Intact Centre, Moudrak worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada, Risk Assurance Services. She is a recipient of the 2018 Canada’s Clean50 Emerging Leader award, which honours Canadian leaders in areas of sustainable development. She received a B.A in Economics and an M.A. in Urban Planning from the University of Waterloo. She is a member of Canadian Water and Wastewater Association climate change committee, the National Research Council’s committee on flood resilience, and she represents Canada as subject matter expert on stormwater management at the ISO/TC224 standard development committee.