Climate change is a major factor in flooding – but it’s not the only one

(as published in the Globe and Mail April 30, 2019) – posted here with the permission of the author, Les Stanfield.

Les Stanfield is an aquatic ecologist who studies the factors that influence watershed ecohealth, and the principal owner of Ecohealth Solutions.

As winter turns to spring, bringing rainshowers in its wake, flooding has returned to Canada as well, devastating communities across the country. Thousands in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec have been forced to evacuate their homes as governments declare states of emergency and water levels continue to rise.

Without question, climate change is a serious factor in all this. But it is not the only one. And believing that it is the lone issue at play means that we risk missing a major part of the story – and the solution.

About 70 per cent to 80 per cent of a watershed’s area is drained by thousands of very small waterbodies, each one draining small areas. These small waterbodies – wetlands, swales, springs – are largely unmapped and unregulated. Many flow only in spring, and these capillaries of the land provide the true capacity of the watershed to store and pass water to rivers. The frequency and magnitude of flows in the receiving rivers are a direct reflection of the rate and timing of flows from these waterbodies.

In the 1960s, we built dams to capture these flows and also established watershed-based authorities to manage flood risk to populated areas. This strategy provided an effective Band-Aid, but it wasn’t able to capture the evolution of how we live: Expanded upstream urbanization and agricultural intensification almost everywhere have increased the rate and volume of water entering rivers. Many rivers have now surpassed their capacity to process these flows.

This has been exacerbated by economic pressures forcing farmers to increase the yields from limited acreage. That has caused them to drain or bury areas that have historically been too wet to till. Urbanization also hardens and covers the land, making it harder for water to drain through it. The flood control plans that have largely worked for the past 30 years are no longer working because that flood forecasting doesn’t consider the impact of these largely undocumented actions by farmers and developers.

The root of Canada’s flooding issue is that there is no comprehensive strategy to manage these small waterbodies, which we’ve been altering for a long time. Generally, landowners can alter the waterbodies with impunity, and while there are a few programs that use private funds to reward landowners for altering them responsibly, there are few disincentives for land uses that increase flood risk downstream. It’s a classic case of the tragedy of the commons: When the gains are obtained by few and the costs are shared by many, people will generally opt for the short-term profit.

Some municipalities across the country have adopted policies or levies to begin to address this issue. In the Toronto and Ottawa regions, headwater policies are now in place to manage how urban development affects these systems. Right now, if flow patterns on lands being developed are already damaged, developers only need to replicate those damaged states of flows when their construction work is finished, without consideration of the flood risk downstream. In the Waterloo region, a stormwater levy program has been instituted that reflects a property’s contribution to stormwater, meaning that landowners pay for their contribution to stormwater; properties with penetrable soils or pavements or with means to store water would pay a lower levy. But the effectiveness of both these programs is limited because the policies are only applied to urban lands; farming and aggregates, for example, are not considered, so their ultimate impact on watershed flood control is diminished.

What we need to tackle the flooding problem is a comprehensive user-pay program that would assess the property owner’s contribution to flood protection within their watershed. A property with wetlands and other water storage areas is rewarded with lower levies; those properties that increase risk pay more. This user-pay system could eventually assess even more valued features, including rare species habitat protection and wildlife corridors, to create an incentive toward ecohealth.

The Trudeau government promised Canadians both a sustainable agricultural and an integrated climate-change strategy, but to date, neither has emerged in ways that include headwater waterbodies as important components that need attention. This is the metric by which voters can really tell which political party really cares about this growing, serious and national issue, rather than just ducking behind the excuse that climate change is causing all our problems. Without a comprehensive strategy to deal with these waterbodies, the problems will only get worse. The few will gain – and the many will pay.

South Shore Stroll Apr 28, 2019

We started out with 12 people on our walk around Helmer Rd from Cty Rd 13 to Babylon Rd and along to Ostrander Point Rd to the Hudgin – Rose property.  Unfortunately 2 people had to drop out early.  The day was cool and cloudy at 9 am but the sun was out by the time we reached our destination and the

temperature had warmed enough that the first chorus frogs were calling.  Along the way we were serenaded by Eastern Towhees, Field, Song, Chipping and White-throated Sparrows, Brown Thrashers, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Chickadees and Red-winged Blackbirds. Turkey Vultures, Double-crested Cormorants and Canada Geese flew overhead.  We were thrilled by 3 Sandhill Cranes flying over and 2 Common Ravens flying in tandem in an obvious courtship display.   There were clusters of frogs’ eggs in the ephemeral pools along Ostrander Point Rd some of which were beginning to hatch tiny tadpoles.  We noticed that the trash bash had not extended to Babylon Rd and were pleased that a plastic garbage bag was available  so we could pick up the trash along the short stretch from Helmer to Ostrander Point Rd.  We were amazed to discover several piles of old paint cans along the Babylon Rd. which unfortunately exceeded our ability to handle. The 7 km walk took us about 2 hours and was an excellent Sunday morning excursion.

2019 Annual General Meeting Sat Mar 23

Saturday March 23, 2019
2 pm
Milford Town Hall

 1:30 – 2 pm registration and membership renewal
2 pm    Welcome and approval of annual meeting agenda – John Hirsch

  • Minutes of 2018-2019 annual meeting and approval – Cheryl Chapman
  • President’s report – John Hirsch
  • Treasurer’s report – Paula Peel
  • Introduction of the Board of Directors (with explanation of how the board is set up i.e. board members and consultants) – Cheryl Anderson
  • Election of the 2019-2020 Board of Directors – Cheryl Anderson
  • Questions and discussionAGM adjourned
    3 pm  Refreshment break
    3:15 pm   Guest Speaker – Amanda Tracey, Nature Conservancy Canada

    Information:  Cheryl Anderson 613-849-7743


South Shore Stroll Aug 4 & 5

Join us for a leisurely stroll across the South Shore Sat Aug 4 and/or Sun Aug 5 starting at 9 a.m. each day.  Experience the birds, butterflies, wildflowers and habitats if the South Shore.


Details of the route, what to bring and poster HERE: SouthShoreStrollAug2018

Register  (it’s free!)


Disturbing new study by Birdlife International

One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction, and once widespread creatures such as the puffin, snowy owl and turtle dove are plummeting towards oblivion, according to the definitive study of global bird populations.

The State of the World’s Birds, a five-year compendium of population data from the best-studied group of animals on the planet, reveals a biodiversity crisis driven by the expansion and intensification of agriculture.

Read the article at:

The WWF 2016 Living Earth Report is an essential assessment of the state of the planet and it is a shock to read. It synthesizes the mountain of evidence showing the Earth system is under increasing threat: climate, biodiversity, ocean health, deforestation, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the carbon cycle.  Read the  complete World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report 2016 

First Meeting of SSJI elects Board

The Inaugural annual meeting of SSJI was held on March 24, 2018 at Bloomfield Town Hall.  We are grateful for the enthusiastic attendance of approximately 70 people.  Since that time we have held the first board meeting and elected the officers as below:

  • President:  John Hirsch
  • Vice president:  Cheryl Anderson
  • Secretary / membership: Cheryl Chapman
  • Treasurer: Paula Peel
  • Directors at large:  Amy Bodman, John Foster, Chris Currie, Steve Ferguson

We also benefit from the expertise of several consulting board members:  Sheila Kuja (science), Richard Copple (history), Peter Fuller (web site management), Lene Rosenmeyer Currie (membership management) and Myrna Wood (research)

On April 6, John Hirsch and Cheryl Anderson met with Mark Stabb from Nature Conservancy Canada and Dick Bird from the Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust.  These organizations have the expertise needed to protect privately owned land in an environmentally sustainable way.  SSJI will continue to support their good work in Prince Edward County.

For more information about the Nature Conservancy go to:

To access information about Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust go to:

What is Protection?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a protected area as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”

Biodiversity is the variability among all living organisms, from the microscopic to the visible, and the ecological network of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. This interdependence of all living things, including humans, supports life on earth. Human well-being and the survival of all species are intimately linked to healthy ecosystems. Every species in decline demonstrates how important the links of biodiversity and the ecosystems that sustain us are.

Protection of habitats must be permanent and have in place control mechanisms to prevent unnatural development. Healthy habitats support biodiversity by allowing plants and animals of many species a place to live, breed and interact in areas specific to their requirements. Preserving national and global biodiversity is recognized as an important international goal for the 21st century. Effective management of important habitat can be achieved through public ownership or private conservation, but includes measuring results of any management practices and finding ways to create natural corridors and habitat for species at risk.