The Gifts of Health Our Wetlands Provide to Our Lives, and the Urgent Need to Save What’s  Left of Them in Niagara

“Niagara and its surrounding areas have seen significant wetland losses, currently approaching 90 per cent. That losss, coupled with the increased storm frequency and intensity caused by climate change, is causing large volumes of stormwater to be generated which is overwhelming infrastructure and causing flooding that is reaching disastrous proportions.”                                                         – from an article from Brock News at Brock University in St. Catharines/Niagara, Ontario

“All remaining Canadian wetlands, if used wisely, can sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services for future generations.”                 – from an article from Brock News at Brock University in St. Catharines/Niagara, Ontario

A Report from Brock University, originally published in the St. Catharines, Ontario’s newspaper in October of 2020

Posted February 25th, 2021 on Niagara At Large

(A Brief Foreword from Doug Draper at Niagara At Large –

This Brock University report on the benefits of wetlands to the health of our communities and to our health as individuals has been sitting on our desktop at NAL for almost four months now, and it has been there because I have always intended to post it.

Thanks to Niagara Falls, Ontario Mayor Jim Diodati and a majority on his council, and a China-based development group, this provincially significant wetland in the Thundering Waters Forest and Niagara River watershed is at risk of being degraded or lost forever. Photo by Lori Monroe

So much else, including the ongoing blizzard of COVID-19 reports, and the Holiday Season seemed to get in the way of a right time to post this piece,  but maybe the right time is now.

This Thursday, February 25th, starting at 6:30 p.m., Niagara Ontario’s Regional Council is holding a full meeting (virtually, of course) and one of the items on the agenda – again – is whether or not to designate the Canadian side of the Niagara River a globally significant wetland under an international Ramsar agreement that has seen more than 2,300 sites around the world receive such a designation already.

Among those sites is the American side of the Niagara River which U.S. federal, state and municipal representatives came together with area citizens to celebrate its designation in the fall of last year.

The rapids in the Lower Niagara River. One might assume that celebrating the Niagara River as an internationally renown wetland would be a no brainer. But apparently it is still a bridge too far for many of Niagara’s municipal politicians and for Ontario’s Niagara Parks Commission, created more than a century ago with a mission to protect and preserve a natural corridor along the river. To Niagara, Ontario’s shame our American friends have already approved such a designation for their side of the Niagara River.

Yet for some reason that makes no sense in a sane world, we have so far not been able to find enough municipal leaders on the Niagara, Ontario side of this world wonder of a river to make this happen.

At tonight’s Niagara Regional Council, you can tune in by going to the Region’s website and following the prompts to this February 25th council meeting to see if this council, at least, will embrace the opportunity to celebrate the Niagara River with this international designation.

In the meantime, please read this Brock News piece on the vital role wetlands play in the circle of our lives. 

– Doug Draper, Niagara At Large)

 

Wetlands: Our Natural Flood Protection Partner – from Brock News in Niagara, Ontario

Wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, supporting well over 100,000 species globally.

Humans rely on this diversity for a wide range of goods and services (known as ecosystem services), and wetlands are important for the social, economic and ecological health of our country.

Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authorities E.C. Brown Wetland Restoration site in South Pelham with Katleya Young-Chin, Ecosystem Restoration Specialist. Photo courtesy of Brock University

Despite their obvious contributions, however, more than 87 per cent of our global wetlands have been lost, primarily due to land conversion, invasive species and climate change.

Southern Ontario, the most biologically diverse life zone in Canada (home to over 2,500 species of plants and animals), has lost over 90 per cent of its original wetlands due to urbanization and agriculture.

As one quarter of all the wetlands in Canada are found in Ontario, their disappearance in the province has had a significant impact and been associated with increased flooding as well as the deterioration of wildlife biodiversity and water quality.

Wetlands play a significant role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, by helping to reduce and prevent flooding.

Acting as natural “sponges,” wetlands capture and slowly release water back into the environment after rain events. Since our human-made infrastructures (buildings, roads, parking lots) are not permeable, water will quickly “runoff” to the nearest low point. In urban settings, that runoff usually flows to storm drains, and most of those drains then directly discharge in creeks, rivers or lakes.

This fast transfer of water (stormwater runoff) can quickly overwhelm creeks, rivers, and stormwater systems and when excess water has no place to go, flooding happens. Contrary to the common belief, quickly moving water off the landscape will not reduce flooding, it actually increases it. Too much water in such systems leads to blockage and back-up (including in houses).

To illustrate how flooding can happen in urban areas, consider an average sized house which typically generates approximately 2,000 litres of runoff during a typical rain event. This is about the equivalent of 150 bathtubs full of water. In Niagara, with close to a quarter of a million dwellings, this is the equivalent to filling 1.7 million bathtubs, or 100 Olympic swimming pools, with stormwater.

Niagara and its surrounding areas have seen significant wetland losses, currently approaching 90 per cent. That losss, coupled with the increased storm frequency and intensity caused by climate change, is causing large volumes of stormwater to be generated which is overwhelming infrastructure and causing flooding that is reaching disastrous proportions.

An example of this was seen in Walkers Creek, St. Cathraines, on September 3, 2018, when a high instensity storm dumped one metre of rain water on the North end of the City within a two- hour period, causing widespread road and basement flooding.

A 2019 study by the Canadian government looked at ecosystem services provided by wetlands. The study found that each hectare (ha) of wetland located in the upstream portions of urban watersheds (drainage area) could provide upto $3,500/ha in flood damage reduction by intercepting and absorbing rainwater before it reaches urban centres.

All remaining Canadian wetlands, if used wisely, can sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services for future generations. Where wetland functions have been degraded, conservation and restoration partnerships should be explored. This process should start with the owners of the land, which may include private, public, government and Indigenous communities.

Wetlands, as part of planned green networks, provide multiple economic benefits, including relief from storm flooding.

Our Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has already endorsed a global designation of the Niagara River as a vital wetland. Will our Niagara Regional Council follow suit?

Locally, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has a partnerhip with Ducks Unlimited Canada for wetland restoration and conservation initiatives and is a great place to find out more information http://www.npca.ca

The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock-Caspell, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier & Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also email us ameopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

NIAGARA AT LARGE Encourages You To Join The Conversation By Sharing Your Views On This Post In The Space Following The Bernie Sanders Quote Below.

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

One response to “The Gifts of Health Our Wetlands Provide to Our Lives, and the Urgent Need to Save What’s  Left of Them in Niagara

  1. From my experience, Niagara Parks focuses on ‘Niagara and tourist,’ and very little on Parks, the environment and wildlife. I made 3 requests in 2020 for a garbage bin near the Peace Bridge and no response. Just more garbage. With COVID there’s less employees picking up roadside, parkside trash than before. And sadly more people tossing their empty Tim Horton’s cups and McDonalds fast food containers whereever they park to ‘enjoy’ the scenery along the Niagara Blvd. I’m getting tired of picking up all the trash and especially plastic. And I know a few other people are picking it the trash as well. The Niagara Parks could easily promote and enhance bird watching to everyone’s benefit, including Niagara Parks. But most of the Park commissioner placements are political plums. The NPC is similar to the Bridge commissions – while supposedly public commissions, a lot goes on behind closed doors.

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