Contributed by Roy Brooke, Municipal Natural Assets Initiative
Canadian local governments face enormous pressure on their infrastructure and budgets, and climate change makes matters worse. B.C.’s municipal elections this month are an opportunity to consider growing evidence that better management of natural assets such as forests, rivers and foreshores could dramatically improve the situation.
Infrastructure across Canada is in trouble. Canada’s Infrastructure Report Card lists one-third of municipal infrastructure as in fair, poor or very poor condition.
The problem is not getting better. Almost daily, there is a new story about extreme weather, wildfires or flooding increasing pressure on municipal budgets and infrastructure. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that insurance losses to Canadian homeowners and communities from climate change and extreme weather events are up over 400 per cent, from $405 million per year between 1983 and 2008 to $1.8 billion per year between 2009 and 2017.
Local governments cannot continue defaulting to expensive engineered infrastructure to meet all service needs.
Fortunately, there is growing evidence from communities like Gibsons, Nanaimo and Grand Forks that are managing and restoring natural assets can protect communities against flooding and manage stormwater just like engineered assets, but at lower costs.
Supported by the Municipal Natural Assets Initiative, these and other communities are demonstrating that their relevant natural assets can provide the same level of stormwater management services as engineered counterparts. Communities are finding that natural assets can meet at least the 100-year flood storage requirements under current standards. In Ontario, the Region of Peel assessed water quality management services associated with their wetlands and found that four of five ecosystem types exceeded provincial requirements for water treatment.
Business cases for restoring and managing natural assets are strong. By effectively managing a natural forest and wetland, the Town of Gibsons avoided building engineered facilities for stormwater. As a result, it’s been able to reduce development charges for drainage services in one area by 74 per cent.
Interested? Local governments in B.C. can reap the benefits of municipal natural asset management. For example, the Municipal Natural Assets Management Initiative has government funding to help smaller communities effectively manage natural assets.
Furthermore, during the election, voters and candidates should avoid defaulting to discussions about expensive engineered infrastructure fixes. Instead, they should be talking about ways to work with their natural assets to save money, deliver service and protect against extreme weather events.