Flooding linked to climate change: experts
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | May 18, 2017|
The eerie silence in downtown Minden, filled only by the constant whir of sump pumps, is something residents will have to get used to if immediate steps aren’t taken to prepare for the effects of global warming, which experts say is the primary cause for the township’s historic flooding.
“We’re at the point now where we can’t wait any longer … we need to plan for a changed climate regime and make the necessary investments to protect communities and people,” Terry Moore, president of Environment Haliburton, told The Highlander.
Levels in reservoir lakes have hit record highs and are expected to remain high until the end of the month, largely due to the 160 mm of rainfall that hit the area in less than a week. And while water levels have decreased since Sunday, the Gull River Watershed continues to remain in a flood warning.
The meandering flow of the Earth’s jet streams, which over the past 30 years have begun to move unpredictably north and south in addition to its natural east and west movements, has stalled weather systems and caused extended rainfall in areas like southern Ontario and Quebec.
“When you have a lot of moisture together with warm temperatures that can stall weather systems including rainfall events for a significantly longer time. “It results in a lot more rainfall in the area with that meandering jet stream,” Moore said.
“People need to really reflect on the fact that this is climate change coming home to roost.”
Disaster assistance funding by the numbers
- The Ontario government has
more than $180 million in disaster assistance funding across the province over the past 10
- The provincial government
provided nearly $950,000 to the Township of Minden Hills for flooding in
Muskoka’s “Planning for Climate Change” action plan should serve as a template for Haliburton County, Moore adds.
The municipality’s watershed council began meeting in October 2014 and put together the final report in January 2016.
The 52-page report includes the history of climate in the area in addition to necessary steps the region should take to prepare for additional extreme weather events.
One of its contributors, author and marine ecologist Peter Sale, says we’re seeing global warming’s direct impact on the environment, pointing to the open water season that is now three weeks longer than it was in the mid-1970s.
“The warm dry summers will lead to greater frequency and severity of drought, which will lead to forest loss, drying out of wetlands, reduced or ceased river flows and low lake levels in late summer/fall,” Sale told The Highlander.
“The shift in seasonality of precipitation and river flow will also lead to greater frequency and severity of spring floods.”
Even if all CO2 emissions were to cease tomorrow, the Earth would continue warming at least until 2100, he adds.
Muskoka’s report indicates the area’s climate at mid-century is going to be warmer and slightly wetter than it is now, and that rainfall may come in fewer but more pronounced storm events.
Sale says Haliburton County can expect similar changes.
“You will presumably have a slightly weaker lake effect from Georgian Bay, which both moderates temperatures and increased precipitation, but I’d expect a very similar climate,” he said.
Current dams and water management infrastructure have limited capacity to hold water back, Sale says, and managers continue to use a pattern of drawing down lakes in winter to help restore lake levels in the spring.
“Obviously snowmelt and rainfall in spring vary a lot in rate and timing from year to year, so the drawdown approach can only be an approximate response to actual flows,” he said.
The report suggests that an in-depth hydrological study of the watershed be performed, followed by infrastructure investment to increase the capacity to hold water back safely.
The price tag would be high, Sale says, if the government were to act on this recommendation.
“It would also require a substantial educational exercise to ensure the community understood both the need, and the positive and negative consequences.”
While the conversation about the Trent-Severn Waterway system and the federal government’s management of it are necessary, Moore says it’s unlikely much could have been done differently to prevent the amount of water we got.
“The extreme weather would override any management … the whole system is overloaded,” he said.
Out of the 17 lakes and rivers in the Gull River watershed, 10 have recently surpassed previous years’ maximum levels for the entire year, according to water level reports from Parks Canada.
Minden Hills Coun. Pam Sayne says the township’s renewable energy task force hasn’t met since the flooding.
But once it does, she will be suggesting some radical changes to how the township should prepare for a new climate regime, specifically when it comes to infrastructure studies and investments.
“Muskoka is trying to be very proactive and is on the right track,” she said, praising the municipality’s embracement of its local experts.
“[Climate change] not only affects the Township of Minden but all lakefront properties to the north and south of us,” she said.
Sayne says she hopes council takes immediate steps to prepare for the extreme weather events that are going to happen more frequently, and that all three levels of government will have to put their heads together to form tangible solutions.
“We need to do more, and we need to do it now,” she said.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.