Green Infrastructure: An Opportunity for Canada to Save Ecosystems and Dollars

This blog was written by Lara Ellis, Director of Strategic Initiatives for ALUS Canada. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s, and are not necessarily reflective of the views of GreenPAC.

Imagine being able to offer Canadians an inexpensive and proven way to clean water, reduce flooding and store water for drought.  And for good measure, throw in habitat for native pollinators, species-at-risk, waterfowl and other sorts of wildlife.  And to help with climate change, sequester and store carbon, and help reduce the impacts of more frequent and severe weather events. 

No, this isn’t some new high tech invention, but rather the oldest technology in the world – nature. 

Wetlands, riparian buffers, trees, and improved agricultural practices will do all the above.  Instead of wearing out they generally become more effective with time.  The icing on the cake is that this “green” infrastructure is inexpensive.  Dollar for dollar, green infrastructure buys you more than traditional bricks and mortar infrastructure that is capital intense, needs regular maintenance and eventually need to be replaced. 

AC_PrimaryLogo_4Col.jpgALUS Canada is a national not-for-profit that works with farmers and ranchers to provide ecosystem services for the benefit of all Canadians.  The concept was developed in Manitoba by Ian Wishart, a potato farmer—now Provincial Cabinet Minister and GreenPAC endorsed candidate from the 2016 Manitoba Election—and the first community ALUS program was in Blanshard, Manitoba.  Since then the ALUS model, which engages local farming communities to implement the program based on local priorities, has grown rapidly.  ALUS Canada oversees the program in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and just recently, Quebec with our provincial partner the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA).  The ALUS program is run as a provincial government initiative in PEI.  

The Federal Government’s commitment to infrastructure investment makes this an excellent time to design an infrastructure program that supports green infrastructure and integrates facets of green infrastructure into plans for new or revamped built infrastructure. 

For starters, the five billion dollars specifically designated for green infrastructure could be modeled on existing programs such as Alberta’s Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program.  This program, according to the website, was designed to “increase the natural ability of the province’s watersheds to reduce the intensity, magnitude, duration and effects of flooding and drought through watershed mitigation measures.” A new Federal fund could similarly allocate dollars to the restoration of natural features and provide long term payments for projects that mitigate flood and drought and improve water quality.  It would be possible to make this program sustainable by endowing a green infrastructure fund and using the investment interest for projects. 

In addition to crafting a smart Green Infrastructure policy and program, the Federal Government could encourage provinces and municipalities to consider the life cycle and carbon costs for the many more billions of dollars proposed to be spent over the next ten years.  A more comprehensive infrastructure screening process than is the norm would give many green options a boost.  Especially if governments looked at integrated or “Best Available Solutions.”   Integrating built and green infrastructure (when green infrastructure on its own can’t do the job) is not only cost efficient, but would mean less wear and tear and associated upkeep costs for existing and new built infrastructure. 

Given Canada’s pride in our natural surroundings and commitment to environmental protection, smart investment in green infrastructure makes economic and environmental sense.   Please let the Ministry of Infrastructure and Communities know your thoughts.  It is accepting submissions about infrastructure spending until mid-September at:  www.infraconsults.ca

For more information contact:  Lara Ellis, Director of Strategic Opportunities, ALUS Canada lellis@alus.ca

 

Economic Benefits of Green Infrastructure

  • In 2010 Halifax Water avoided a $150,000 upgrade at the Middle Musquodoboit Water Treatment Plant (built in 2009-2010 for $2.2M) by working with a farmer.  The farmer is compensated $300 a year for modifying agricultural practices and for maintaining a wider riparian buffer[1].

 

  • A comprehensive economic analysis[2] of the ecological goods and services provided by wetlands in the Black River watershed of Lake Simcoe determined that:

a dollar invested in [wetland] retention produces $3.66 of value, while a dollar invested in [wetland] restoration of up to 25 per cent of the subwatershed’s wetlands produces $2.01 worth of value.  

This is a conservative valuation, given that it considered only a portion of wetlands’ economic contribution (water quality improvement through phosphorous reduction, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and tourism) and did not include wetlands contribution to flood mitigation, groundwater filtration/recharge or erosion control.

 

  • Ducks Unlimited Canada found the cost of wetland restoration vs. flood mitigation infrastructure in the Bow River and South Saskatchewan Rivers Basins to be comparable.  Wetland Restoration costs were assessed at $3.5 - $6.7/ m3, whereas dry dam costs were $1.4 - $7/ m3 plus maintenance[3].  In addition to mitigating floods, wetlands provide carbon sequestration, water and quality improvement, and habitat.

 

  • According to a World Resources Institution study, six U.S. cities saved 60% on water infrastructure by integrating natural and build infrastructure[4]. New York City invested in watershed protection measures, including working with the agricultural community, to protect water quality (pollution reduction, conservation easements) rather than spend between $6-8B on a new filtration system with annual costs of $300M. The rate of return on the natural infrastructure investment was between 90 to 170%. An added benefit was the injection of $100M per year into the rural parts of the watershed. 

 

  • A study of the Upper Mississippi and Missouri Basins in the U.S. Midwest concluded that wetland restoration would have accommodated the floodwaters of the 1993 flooding event[5].

 

  • Massachusetts wetlands were valued at $96,010/acre for flood control, $75,196/acre for nutrient filtering, and $291,357/acre for water supply services[6]


[1] Barry Geddes, Watershed Manager, Halifax Water.

[2] A Business Case for Wetland Conservation: The Black River Subwatershed, Ducks Unlimited Canada,2011.

[3] Wetlands Working: Flood Mitigation in the Bow River Basin, Ducks Unlimited Canada.

[4] Ontario’s Wealth, Canada’s Future: Appreciating the Value of the Greenbelt’s Eco-Services, David Suzuki Foundation, 2008.

[5] World Resources Institute: Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection in the United States, 2013

[6] Olewiler, Nancy. The Value of Natural Capital in Settled Areas of Canada. Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2004.

 

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